Nov. 8, 2011
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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, July 28, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2011-12 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The unfulfilled career of University of Iowa wrestler Montell Marion boils down to his quest for an asterisk. Inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex, an asterisk — the typographical symbol used to designate a footnote — represents a national champion on the roll call board of Hawkeye All-Americans.
Marion’s name is already there with the years 2009 and 2010 off to the side. But there is no asterisk…yet.
“I need an asterisk by my name,” Marion said. “That symbolizes national champion, and that’s what it comes down to.”
Marion owns a collegiate record of 61-17. He was 32-8 as a sophomore at 141 pounds, losing to Kyle Dake of Cornell University, 7-3, in an NCAA Championships final. Last season Marion finished 13-5 and placed fourth in the NCAA at 141, losing to Mike Thorn of Minnesota, 4-3, in the third-place match.
It has been two varsity seasons and two All-American performances for Marion, but each of his last two campaigns ended in defeat. If that happens again in 2012, there will still be no asterisk for Marion.
“There is unfinished business in his wrestling career,” said UI head coach Tom Brands. “He’s going to graduate and have a degree, and that’s important. But the top of the (award’s) stand is what you’re shooting for. You’re not shooting for anything else and that’s where he’s headed. We love his approach.”
Marion will graduate with a degree in sports and health studies. He wants to continue his wrestling career and attempt to qualify for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics before looking for coaching positions at the Division I level. Marion knows that those are merely goals, and sometimes life doesn’t turn out exactly as planned.
Marion was suspended from the Hawkeye program in May of 2010 after three run-ins with the law in five years. He was removed from all team activities, taken off scholarship and offered a transfer release. Marion decided it was time to grow up, not run away. He completed treatment for alcohol rehabilitation and devoted more time to community service. His grade-point average climbed.
“As an athlete at the University of Iowa, you have eyes on you,” Marion said. “To some people that might seem like it’s cool, but at the same time I’ve been judged for a lot of things because of who I am. I’ve learned to accept the responsibility.
“At first I just wanted to wrestle, and I didn’t think I had to hold up my end of the bargain when it comes to setting a good example. Now that I’m getting older, I have learned to accept the responsibility that comes with the gift of wrestling on this team.”
Marion was reinstated to the team Jan. 4, 2011, winning his first six matches before finishing fourth in the Big Ten and fourth in the NCAA.
As a coach, Brands never gives up on his competitors when they are on the mat and he never throws in the towel on the student-athletes in his program. Marion’s life has the makings of a success story; thanks to help from many at the UI.
“Montell has learned it’s time to take the bull by the horns and guide his life in the right way, because we have choices,” Brands said. “He’s had to make decisions on his own, and he’s done that with his own good judgment. That’s why he’s here, that’s why he’s strong and that’s why he’s doing what he’s doing for the Hawkeyes.”
Two of Marion’s losses last season were to eventual national champion Kellen Russell of Michigan; both matches went to overtime. His other three defeats were by a total of six points and one of those went overtime as well.
“I feel like I’m just hitting my prime,” Marion said. “My No. 1 goal right now is an undefeated national title. I feel I’ve been inconsistent my past seasons — up and down — losing some matches I shouldn’t have lost and losing close matches. In order to establish yourself as a winner, you have to win those matches that come down to the wire and those that go into overtime.”
There is another way to avoid losing close matches: don’t let them stay close. Marion wants to evolve into a complete, dominant competitor like former teammate and two-time national champion Brent Metcalf.
“There are certain things I have to do in order to start pinning guys and putting the screws on them so I can end matches in the second period or first period instead of having to go all the way to the third period,” Marion said. “I’m constantly building, and I want Hawkeye fans to see a hammer — a guy that is relentless, mean, tough…finishing shots; a guy who is on top, never down.”
Marion had a later-than-usual start to the sport, beginning in eighth grade.
“I got my butt handed to me quite a few times, but with some hard work, I was able to turn the corner the next years and started seeing some improvement,” Marion said.
By the time he graduated from Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa, Marion had won two individual state championships, and he was runner-up twice. His prep record was 151-7.
During Marion’s first season at the UI in 2007-08, he compiled a record of 11-5 wrestling unattached at 133. As a redshirt freshman in 2008-09, he went 17-4 at 133 pounds, winning the Grand View Open with a 5-2 decision over Matt McDonough in the finals. The last two seasons Marion has won 44-of-57 matches, including a 15-4 mark in duals and 10-3 in the Big Ten Conference.
Prior to his final year, Marion issued a challenge to upcoming opponents: You know what I’ve got, now try to stop it.
“You can watch the film and you can know what I have, but the question is, can you stop them?” Marion said. “I don’t see anybody that can stop it. I feel I can get in on anybody’s legs, and I feel I can finish on anybody. That’s a lot to go against and good luck to whoever tries to coach against that.”
In a positive way, Marion said he wants to go from an electrifying wrestler to one he describes as boring.
“I prefer my matches to not be exciting,” Marion said. “I want to be hammering guys so much that (spectators) don’t even want to watch anymore. Hopefully the Montell this year can make it not so entertaining for fans — that’s how it has to be for me to win my title.”
And finally receive his asterisk.