ISU Wrestling: Heavyweight Zabriskie's wins speak volumes
By DAN McCOOL ? email@example.com ? March 13, 2009
Ames, Ia. - David Zabriskie's rise to the top of the heavyweight class in NCAA Division I wrestling has been about confidence - gleaned on and off the mat.
The Iowa State junior, who is expected to hold the No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament starting next Thursday in St. Louis, successfully faced challenges before he ever learned how to compete in the sport as an eighth-grader in New Jersey.
Zabriskie's first opponent? Stuttering.
"I'm not too self-conscious," said Zabriskie, who is 30-2 this season. "Usually I'm pretty calm and collected, so (stuttering) doesn't come out as much, but it does sometimes."
Even in his early years at Iowa State, detailing a big win sometimes took a little more time as he worked for the words. Still, Zabriskie never steered away from a television microphone or a reporter's tape recorder.
Zabriskie said speech therapy through high school aided his ability and confidence.
"That helped me out a ton. I learned a ton of technique to help me through it," he said. "The key is to use those techniques and not shy away from actual conversation or anything like that."
Most know Zabriskie's extra efforts and ability on the mat - especially during critical third periods of matches and overtime.
Zabriskie is 8-1 this season - 11-3 in his career - in matches requiring overtime.
John Gardner, Zabriskie's high school coach, said the third period is Zabriskie's best.
"When I pull those guys down by the head and I hear them breathing heavy and I'm still feeling pretty good," Zabriskie said, "it gives you an extra boost to know they are pretty exhausted."
In high school, Zabriskie grew from a sophomore who lost in the opening round of district competition - similar to losing in the first round at sectionals in a small class in Iowa - to being a state champion at 215 pounds in 2005.
He was the first individual state champion in 15 years for High Point Regional of Wantage, N.J.
Zabriskie's sixth-place finish at the NCAA meet last season made him High Point's first Division I wrestling all-American.
The recruiting class then-Iowa State coach Bobby Douglas put together for the 2005-06 season included blue-chip names such as Cyler Sanderson, Nick Gallick, Nick Fanthorpe and Jake Varner. There was also a heavyweight named Zabriskie.
"The class he's with was assembled, but (Zabriskie) was just a throw-in," Gardner said. "I'm certainly happy that David was able to come in with a group as special as that group has been, but at the time he was a last-sentence guy."
Zabriskie traveled halfway across the country to finish what he told Douglas during recruiting.
"Coach Douglas asked me what I wanted to accomplish. I told him I wanted to be an NCAA champion," Zabriskie said. "He told me if I came here, I could be a champion. Not quite there yet, but one step closer right now."
If Zabriskie wears out enough opponents in St. Louis, he'll rekindle Cyclone memories.
Reaching the finals would make Zabriskie the first Iowa State heavyweight there since Trent Hynek in 1998. Winning it would make him the first Cyclone champ since Chris Taylor won the last of two in a row in 1973.
Iowa State coach Cael Sanderson said Zabriskie has qualities that make him unique on the mat.
"He wrestles like a lightweight, he's quick, he's extremely strong, he knows where he is all the time, he hustles, he's a gamer and he loves to compete," Sanderson said. "You put all of those things together and that's a tough kid to beat right there."
Sanderson said Zabriskie possesses qualities that make him special away from a singlet, too.
"I like to hear him talk," Sanderson said, "because when he speaks, he has something to say. He's not a kid that just jabbers to jabber."