Brains and Brawn: Brooks is Loaded With Both

Aug. 12, 2013

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Long before Sammy Brooks began challenging the country’s best wrestlers, he was measuring his skills against the world.

Brooks, a redshirt freshman on the University of Iowa wrestling team, earned a bronze medal at the FILA Cadet Freestyle World Championships in Szombathely, Hungary, in 2011. He was a FILA Cadet Greco-Roman and freestyle champion that year, and his success eventually led him to the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex, where he bangs heads with All-Americans seven days a week.

It was a tough path that led to more bumpy roads, but it has prepared Brooks for a return trip across the sea and another shot at gold.

“I’m definitely more prepared this time around, there’s no doubt about that,” said Brooks, who will represent Team USA in the 84 kg weight class at the 2013 FILA Junior World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.

“The biggest difference is my positioning on the little things. A lot of times when you’re wrestling in high school you get away with things that are sloppy just because you’re bigger and better and stronger, but now you have to really go back to fundamentals and get good at what you’re really good at. That’s a big thing.”

Bigger, better, and stronger inhabit every square inch of the Iowa wrestling room. Brooks knows that as well as anyone, because after running through the challenge tournament of the Junior World Team Trials on June 23, he returned to Iowa City to find All-America training partners waiting for him.

“Brooks has an opportunity every day to see where he stacks up against some of the best guys in the country,” said Iowa head coach Tom Brands. “It’s unique because he has to get ready in our room with (Nathan) Burak, (Mike) Evans and (Ethen) Lofthouse. It’s a good situation for him, and he thrives on it. I don’t think he shrinks from any challenge.”

His technique may be more polished than the day he first arrived on campus, but it is effort and attitude that has helped Brooks reach his goals today, and effort and attitude that will lead him to his goals tomorrow.

“You have to understand what needs to be done and you do it,” said Brooks. “That mentality started with my high school coach Mike Powell, and it has been backed up by Tom (Brands) and Terry (Brands). That’s just what you’re supposed to do. You have to do it.”

Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands said Brooks has the package — both mentally and physically — to reach the top of the international podium.

“His style is suited more than most Americans,” said Terry Brands. “He’s extremely solid in his positions, and he has naturally adapted to the style. Brooks is strong where the Europeans are strong. He has more of a natural feel, and I don’t think he’s going over there wondering if he can win.”

Brooks has competed in big tournaments before. Besides the 2011 FILA Cadet World Championships, he was a two-time cadet national runner-up in 2010, and a two-time Illinois state champion at Oak Park-River Forest High School. Those tournaments were big and those brackets were strong, but today Brooks says he’s hunting something bigger.

“It’s the World Championships,” said Brooks. “It’s a big thing, and I’m ready for it.”

The 2013 FILA Junior World Championships run Aug. 13-18 at the Arena Armeetz in Sofia, Bulgaria. Brooks’ 84 kg freestyle bracket will be contested Sunday, Aug. 18. Brooks’ Hawkeye teammate, Thomas Gilman, will represent Team USA in the 55 kg bracket on the same day.