Brands getting head start on '08
By Andy Hamilton
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Some college wrestling coaches are still putting the finishing touches on their 2007 recruiting classes.
Iowa coach Tom Brands is well on his way to assembling a top-notch group for 2008.
The Iowa wrestling program added its second standout junior this spring when two-time Illinois state champion Jordan Blanton verbally committed to the Hawkeyes. The 171-pounder from Richmond-Burton High School joins a class that already included West High's Nate Moore, the top-ranked 125-pounder in the country.
"At first, I didn't see myself (committing) this fast," Blanton said. "But I've had success, like when I went to the Vegas tournament this spring, and a lot of coaches have been on me a lot sooner than I thought and they started talking (scholarship) money. Unless it really felt right, I wasn't going to commit, and I went on my visit (to Iowa) and I think every possible thing could've went right, their philosophies, the guys on the team, when I talked to them, I liked them and everything was perfect. There was not a doubt in my mind."
Blanton is ranked seventh in the country at 171 by Amateur Wrestling News and third at the weight among juniors. He captured the 171-pound freestyle title in April at the Western Junior Regional Championships in Las Vegas, catching the attention of college coaches who were in town that weekend for the U.S. National Championships. Blanton also considered Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan State and Iowa State.
"If you're a wrestler, you always dream and imagine what it would be like to step out on the mat in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in front of all those fans," Blanton said. "I was in love with their tradition and always believed the same things."
Blanton owns a 111-1 record in high school. He suffered his only high school loss in this year's Illinois state finals to Northwestern recruit Mike Benefiel, the nation's top-ranked 171-pounder. Rather than seeking another weight to preserve his perfect record, Blanton stayed at 171 for an opportunity to wrestle Benefiel.
"To be the best you have to wrestle the best," he said. "I wanted to wrestle the best. He's the best in the state, best in the country, and it was nice waking up every morning or at practice when I was tired and didn't want to do stuff to think, 'You can't slack right now because you're not on top, you've got to keep working to close the gap and pass him.' It helped a lot with motivation and stuff like that. I wouldn't change anything."
Benefiel hit Blanton for seven quick points on a fireman's carry and a leg turk that keyed an 8-2 victory.
"I was prepared as I was going to be for the match, (but) he caught me in a move early and that changed the pace of the match," Blanton said. "But just the thought of wrestling him pushed me the entire year and that was great."
Blanton said he wasn't pushed to make an early decision by the Iowa coaches. Moore announced his intention to the Hawkeyes in late March, becoming one of the earliest commitments in Iowa wrestling history.
"I know for me, with the way they went about it, they weren't pushy at all, especially compared to some schools," Blanton said. "Some schools were really on me, texting a lot, which I didn't mind; they weren't nagging at all. But (Iowa) did everything perfect."