Hawkeye at Heart: Local chiropractor remains close to Iowa wrestling

By BJ Corbitt
Sports Writer

Georgia's far from where he grew up, but Craig Stover hasn't forgotten his roots.

Stover is currently a volunteer strength and conditioning coach for West Forsyth football and owner of his own chiropractic practice in Cumming, but he still has a deep connection to the sport and the state that set him down his life path -- Iowa wrestling.

Stover grew up in eastern Iowa and finished as high as sixth statewide in the state's super heavyweight division as a high school wrestler. He earned a fourth-place national finish while attending Western State College of Colorado and earned a bronze medal wrestling for the US national team against the former Soviet Union in Leningrad.

In 1993, he became a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Iowa, working with the nation's premier Division I wrestling program and the Hawkeye football team.

Five years later, Stover left the Midwest for Atlanta, making the move with Tim Dwight, who was taken in the NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons out of Iowa that year and asked Stover to come along and continue working with him in the NFL.

"I sat back and thought about [Dwight's offer] and said 'You know, this isn't going to come around again. I'm out of here,'" Stover said of his decision to leave Iowa.

Still, that wasn't the end of his ties to the program. When Tom Brands, whom Stover had helped train during a run to Olympic wrestling gold in 1996, was named head coach of the Hawkeye grapplers after the 2006 season, he asked Stover for a hand.

Since then, Stover has been flying to Iowa at least once a month during the wrestling season and as often as weekly as the season winds down, with travel compensation from the school. While there, he works closely with wrestlers on musculoskeletal issues, as well as strength and conditioning.

This March, he saw his frequent-flyer miles pay off, as Iowa won the NCAA championships, the 21st team title in the program's history.

The outcome was no more than what's become the norm at Iowa, Stover said. The program has dominated college wrestling since the 1970s.

"You wrestle at Iowa, you're expected to win the Big Ten [conference title] and win national championships. That's the expectation put on you. That being said, you've got to have the machine ready to roll," he said.

Stover seems happy with his opportunity to help the "machines" that are Hawkeye wrestlers stay in top condition.

He likes to give each athlete highly individualized care, and will examine everything down to how a wrestler walks, a technique known as gait analysis. The idea is that if one leg doesn't go as far back as the other, the wrestler is sacrificing stride length and speed, which then lessens his ability to shoot during a match.

He also takes advantage of the time he's applying physical therapy to help athletes visualize different scenarios on the mat.

"Being around [wrestling all my life], I understand the animal pretty good," he said.

Stover has no shortage of evidence that his work with the team has paid off.

Recently, he was approached by Doug Schwab, a former Iowa wrestler whom Stover has worked with. Schwab, who has qualified for a spot in this summer's Beijing Olympics, told Stover his program had been a big part of his own success.

Such praise is heartening, but Stover says that the mere fact that athletes are willing to work with him on repeat occasions tells him all he needs to know.

"If it's not working, they won't come back. They just won't associate with you," he said.

Stover's efforts aren't confined to wrestlers in Iowa. He works with local athletes as well, and has seen his clients experience their share of success. Class AAA state champion Dane Magnussen from West Forsyth, as well as Forsyth Central's Mike Vazquez and West's Tyler Everton, who both finished fifth in their classifications, are among the area athletes he's worked with.

"Getting the younger kids to listen and follow through and and have the dedication is a little different than the guys at the Division I level," Stover said of the difference between working with high-school and college athletes, noting that younger athletes can be more resistant to unfamiliar suggestions at first.

Stover's passion for wrestling is easy to see, as he praises the openness of the sport.

"You can be four foot-10, 91 pounds. You can be six foot-seven, 261 pounds. You can be [any race or gender] -- it just doesn't matter," he said.

The sport has supplied him with a work ethic, discipline and self-control, he said.

Stover even appeals to the highest authority of all in praising the sport he loves.

"It's the oldest, greatest, and only sport sanctioned by God," he said with a smile, noting that wrestling shows up in the Bible, in the Old Testament account of Jacob's wrestling match with an angel.

Having seen his share of wrestlers he's worked with win plenty of matches, Stover has a theory about what it takes for the head of a wrestling program to see success.

"The difference that I've seen and found is the leadership, and leaders' ability to tap into the abilities of each individual athlete," he said.

That means finding what it takes to motivate each individual athlete, as well as knowing how to "work heir tails into the ground," he said.

E-mail BJ Corbitt at bjcorbitt@forsythnews.com.

Originally published Friday, June 20, 2008