Dennis didn't like missing last year
Iowa wrestler suffered season-ending jaw injury.
By MATT LEVINS
Daniel Dennis should have had the best season of his wrestling career last year at the University of Iowa. He should have been celebrating the Hawkeyes' first national team title since 2000.
Sure, Dennis was happy Iowa won the national title and was glad to be a part of it. But it wasn't the role he was hoping to play in Iowa's resurgence to the top of the college wrestling world.
Dennis suffered a broken jaw just before wrestle-offs last fall. The injury kept him out of competition the entire year. It was the second straight year Dennis had missed the entire wrestling season. He redshirted the 2006-07 season.
It was the cruelest blow of all for Dennis. Now, he hopes to put that behind him and move forward.
"It's hard to watch, knowing you are not going to be a part of it," Dennis said Monday at Clark Fieldhouse, where he was the featured clinician at the Burlington Wrestling Camp. "You've just got to be as supportive as you can be and not get down or be negative. It's fun watching all your hard work pay off. It's good to know that all the hard work you put in pays off."
Last season should have been a breakthrough one for Dennis, who was 20-18 as a freshman.
But a freak accident during practice turned his season upside down. While working out with fellow 133-pounder Montel Marion, Dennis' jaw was fractured right down the center.
As it turned out, the physical pain was far less than the anguish he went through the next six months, watching Iowa win a national championship, one he should have played a big part in.
"It was frustrating to hear the doctor say I was going to be out a lot longer than I wanted to be or than I thought I should be," Dennis said. "It was just a freak accident."
Instead of pouting, Dennis did the only thing he knew how to do: he worked hard during his rehabilitation. And he became the Hawkeyes' biggest fan in the process.
"I tried to be as supportive of the team as I could," Dennis said. "I tried to be positive and do what I could to help the program. You just try to go on to the next step and do the best you can.
"It was hard watching, but it was nice to watch the team succeed. You feel like you are a part of something still. You just have to get over the frustration and get on to the next step. You can't get down on yourself or be negative."
Dennis is ready to step back on the mat and get back in the fray for the starting spot at 133 for the defending national champion Hawkeyes. Dennis, along with several other Iowa wrestlers, competed in the University Nationals in Ohio. Dennis took first place in the 132.25-pound weight class. Dennis also competed in the FILA World Team Trials last month in Colorado Springs, Colo.
For Dennis, as with all the Iowa wrestlers, the season is a year-long process.
"It's something you've got to do if you want to be a national champion," Dennis said.
Last season was just another transition in Dennis' wrestling career. He was recruited to Iowa by former coach Jim Zalesky. Dennis built relationships with Zalesky and his coaching staff, relations that were severed when Zalesky was let go and Tom Brands was brought in to restore the program to its former glory.
"For Dennis, it was all part of the maturation process, both as a wrestler and a person.
"It was sad to see Zalesky and those guys go. I had good relationships with him and the Steiners and I still do," Dennis said. "Brands is a great guy. He is going to take you to where you want to be. We have some great wrestlers on our team and that is a tribute to them and the hard work they put in. But Coach Brands makes you believe in yourself. It all comes back to what is best for the program. You know what you are getting with (Doug) Schwab, (Wes) Hand and Brands."
Dennis said he plans to compete for the job at 133 this season, no matter who else is at that weight.
"I plan on being in a battle for that weight," Dennis said. "I am preparing for a battle and whoever else is at that weight had better be preparing for a battle, too."
In the meantime, Dennis is enjoying giving back to the sport by working with the youth. He even sees a little bit of himself in some of the younger kids.
"It's always fun to dink around with the little kids and see what the future has to offer," Dennis said. "I love to see the kids get into it. You can see the ones who get really excited about wrestling. They look at you with stars in their eyes. I really like that. That's good to see."