Senior Vinnie Wagner is the hidden ace up the sleeve of the Iowa wrestling team going into the Big Ten Championships this weekend in West Lafayette, Ind.
“He’s one of the more quiet, dedicated guys that I’ve coached,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “Not one complaint. Never.”
When junior Grant Gambrall made the move from 197 back to 184 — where he placed third at the 2011 NCAA Championships — Wagner went the other direction.
“A lot of protein shakes,” Wagner said. “I’m not trying to get too heavy. Any weight I do put on I want it to be lean muscle that is going to help me, not hurt me.
“I’d rather be strong a 190, 192, than fat and flabby at 195. That’s my goal.”
Wagner started the season planning to wrestle at 197, but shrunk to 184 to help the team. Now he is adding pounds for the same reason.
“I kind of slowly cut up all the fat; I don’t think I lost a lot of muscle there,” Wagner said. “A little bit had to be sacrificed, but I’m gaining it back pretty quick.”
Wrestling at 197 feels more natural to Wagner than it did to Gambrall.
“Me and Grant’s wrestling styles differ quite a bit,” Wagner said. “I’m more of a straight-up, hard-nosed wrestler. Grant likes going around the side. He likes to work those different angles and stuff.
“I think it’ll probably work to both our benefits.”
Brands likes the idea of Wagner at 197.
“You ask coach Kurt Backes, and he’ll tell you, (Wanger) is one strong hombre. He’s a strong dude. He’s a strong medical student,” Brands said.
He also is the only Iowa wrestler unseeded going into the Big Ten Championships. He is 0-2 at 197 after going 9-8 at 184.
There are five rated Big Ten wrestlers at 197 and seven automatic bids to the NCAA Championships up for grabs this weekend.
“I feel really good with where I’m at,” Wagner said. “I never mind being the guy no one knows about. I’m sure a lot of the guys at 197 don’t know much about me. I’ll definitely use that to my advantage.”
Gambrall, for his part, feels more natural at his old weight. He won a 10-2 major decision over Tony Dellago of Illinois in the National Duals consolation match.
He also lost 3-1 to Kevin Steinhaus of Minnesota.
“I felt good,” Gambrall said. “Against the Minnesota guy, I definitely needed to create more offense. I think I just need to force myself to go earlier, go to the leg, even if it means getting out of my comfort zone.
“We don’t train to let it come down to one scramble.”
Despite wrestling just twice at 184, Gambrall earned the No. 4 preliminary seed.
The rest of the Hawkeyes were seeded as follows: 125, Matt McDonough, first; 133, Tony Ramos, second; 141, Montell Marion, third; 149, Michael Kelly, 10th; 157, Derek St. John, sixth; 165, Mike Evans, second; 174, Ethen Lofthouse, third; and 285, Bobby Telford, sixth.
“This is my last go-round, and I’m going to make it happen,” Wagner said. “Right now it’s do or die.”