Oh Brother

Jan. 23, 2006

With success comes tradition. From 1977 to 1997, Iowa wrestling legend, Dan Gable led the Hawkeyes to a 355-21-5 record. During that time, he coached 152 All-Americans and 106 Big Ten Champions. One of the key ingredients to his success was the recruitment of brothers.

During his tenure, he brought in 17 sets of brothers to compete for the Hawkeye wrestling team. Seven of the sets competed together and three sets were twins. As with many athletic teams, athletes build a sense of family with their teammates. For the Hawkeyes, this sense of family has been taken to another level with wrestlers coming into the program who already had real family ties to the program.

Since Gable’s departure, head coach Jim Zalesky has continued this tradition. He has since coached 13 sets of brothers, as well as two sets of twins.

“Gable started this tradition while he was here and so far it’s been a good formula to success,” Coach Zalesky says of the family recruitment. “When we have family ties to a recruit, it makes the recruiting process much easier. If someone has a younger brother we are looking at, then we might look into taking them over another possible recruit.”

One of Iowa’s recent recruits was Justin Neuzil, whose brother Jacob had joined Iowa a year earlier. In Jacob’s eyes it was his competing for the Hawkeyes which led to his younger brother deciding on Iowa.

“I do believe it was a big factor on Justin deciding to wrestle here,” said Jacob. “He saw the way we compete and wanted to wrestle the same style. Iowa wrestling also surrounded him. In a way, he didn’t have a choice to go elsewhere.”

Another reason for continuing this tradition was the experience that Coach Zalesky had during his tenure as a wrestler at Iowa when he followed his brothers to the University.

“Having them here made things easier for me,” Zalesky said of his brothers. “The adjustment to collegiate wrestling was easier. Also, during the off-seasons, I didn’t have to worry about finding a training partner because my brothers were here.”

Wrestlers must go through the same adjustments as other college students, but at the same time they are also dealing with adjusting to collegiate wrestling which makes the transition much more difficult. When older brothers leave their younger brothers behind, the transition to college can sometimes result in a more difficult situation.

“For me it’s a comfort thing,” Jacob says of having his younger brother Justin here with him. “I like knowing that Justin and I are still together like we always have been. We grew up with each other and have been through good and bad times together. Last year, it was tough for me to wrestle because for the first time Justin and I weren’t together. This year, I feel comfortable again.”

The wrestlers feel more comfortable with their brothers at their side. There is also the family environment that results from these brothers with the rest of the team. It is no surprise why Hawkeye wrestling is one of the premier programs in the country. With over 30 sets of brothers wrestling at Iowa since the 1950s, it is likely that this long standing tradition will not end anytime soon.

“It is such a great program and the history behind it with brothers and twins makes it much more special for both my brother and I,” says junior Ben Stedman. He’s one of the fifth set of twins to compete for Iowa. “Being able to look up to all of the great brothers who have gone through this program is wonderful. And, then to be able to be coached by them is an amazing feeling. This program is perfect for brothers. It has taught me so much about life and what it takes to compete at this level. It’s a level no other program strives for.”

written by Josh Mitchell, Iowa Sports Information