One Mich. high school, two paths
Former teammates face off in Iowa-ISU wrestling match
Andy Hamilton • Iowa City Press-Citizen • December 4, 2009
The walls inside the Michigan high school wrestling room where Roy Hall teaches his craft are covered with pictures of past and present stars of the Iowa-Iowa State dual.
Posters of Tom and Terry Brands hang beside one of Cael Sanderson. There's a photo from last year's dual between the Hawkeyes and Cyclones that Hall picked up at a bookstore in Iowa City, one he particularly cherishes. Two of his top students, Iowa senior Brent Metcalf and Iowa State junior Jon Reader, wrestled that night last December in front of an NCAA-record crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"Our room is full of stuff," said Hall, who is in his 13th season as the head coach at Davison High School, a Michigan wrestling power 60 miles northwest of Detroit. "I think that's a great motivator for the kids to make them think they can wrestle at one of those schools. We've got to pinch ourselves to realize our guys are actually there."
The chatter inside Hall's room this week is about Sunday's clash in Ames between college wrestling's heavyweights, between Metcalf and the top-ranked Hawkeyes against Reader and the No. 2 Cyclones.
"We've got an amazing group of little kids who are into it," Hall said. "They're mat rats, they're passionate and they idolize those guys, they've got them on their screensavers.
"That's the highest level, that's like a Heisman Trophy winner or an All-American quarterback from your high school. They sweat in this room and did all the drills, did all the same things, that's special."
Hall, an NCAA qualifier at Michigan State, transformed Davison from a doormat to a dynasty, and Metcalf and Reader were there when the program was at its apex.
Davison had gone through eight years without a winning season before Hall returned to his alma mater in 1997.
"When he stepped into the program, there was a group of guys in there who bought in real quick to his system and his wrestling philosophy," said Metcalf, the top-ranked wrestler in the country at 149 pounds. "That was before I came and before my brother came. What you had was a group of guys who wanted to win and who were competitors and they just needed a coach to show them how."
The state of Michigan has produced three NCAA champions since 1979 when Mark Churella earned the last of his three titles for Michigan. Two of them -- Metcalf and Paul Donahoe, a 2007 national champ at Nebraska -- came from Hall's program.
Reader was an All-American last year at 165 pounds, and Indiana's Trevor Perry, another Davison product, came up one victory short of reaching the medal stand at the NCAA meet.
During Hall's first 11 seasons, Davison went 309-48-1, won five straight state dual titles and seven in a nine-year stretch. If Michigan kept official team scoring for its individual tournament, the title count would more than double.
"The old timers still keep score," Hall said, "and we won eight out of nine of those."
Metcalf is Hall's most decorated pupil. He went 228-0, won four state titles in high school and six Junior National championships in freestyle and Greco-Roman before signing with Tom Brands at Virginia Tech.
"We talked about Iowa all the time and used that example of working hard and doing more when no one else is watching and never being satisfied," Hall said. "Brent bought in. I explain it to some people like playing Nintendo -- he did exactly what you asked with no hesitation. I've always said a program is only going to be as good as your best guy. If your best guy buys in and does all the right things -- you have a walking and breathing example -- it makes your job a lot easier."
Reader won three Michigan state titles and compiled a 234-6 record. Before he returned to Iowa with Metcalf in tow, Brands tried landing Reader, too.
"We recruited him pretty hard at Tech," Brands said. "We went to the house, had a visit, things went well from our evaluation, from our perspective, and then it was like bing, bang, boom, he committed to Sanderson."
Reader settled on the Cyclones after his first official visit to Ames.
"I came out here and that was it," he said. "I liked the tradition and legacy here and everything they offered."
Metcalf said he and Reader weren't close friends in high school outside of wrestling. They trained together at times at Davison, but much like recruiting, Metcalf went one direction and Reader went another.
"Great teammate, very loyal, same attitude he holds now in college -- very aggressive," Reader said. "He's a great guy."
Metcalf said he probably doesn't take the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry as seriously as Reader does. But they caught up a little bit when were teammates again this past summer on a U.S. freestyle squad that competed at the Pan American Championships in Venezuela.
For now, though, it's back to opposing sides with Hall and his room full of wrestlers at Davison watching to see who comes out on top.
"I was in awe of watching those guys and how coachable they were and how motivated they were," Hall said. "I'm truly humbled by it and I understand it and appreciate it and know it's a once-in-a-lifetime deal. We have some guys now who think they can do it and it's been done now, so the kids can see themselves at that level."
Reach Andy Hamilton at 339-7368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.