Nov. 7, 2013
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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 8, 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 2013-14 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 — Head coach Tom Brands has no problem when his University of Iowa wrestlers exhibit a degree of flamboyance. But that flashiness must include one ingredient: winning.
Hawkeye junior 174-pounder Mike Evans is flamboyant. He is also a winner. The man recognized for his Fu Manchu mustache is a two-time Big Ten Conference finalist, a two-time NCAA qualifier, and a returning All-American after battling through injury to place sixth at the NCAA Championship in 2013.
“He captures the fancy of the fans with how he acts and walks,” Brands said. “The facial hair last year was a big deal with our fans. You have to put one ingredient in there in addition to everything else, and that’s winning. He is a winner and he’s a funky guy.”
As a redshirt freshman in 2011-12, Evans compiled a record of 26-8 with seven falls at 165 pounds. He won his opening match at nationals, but was bounced from the tournament after one-point losses to Paul Gillespie of Hofstra and Ben Jordan of Wisconsin.
Last season he won two matches at 165 before bumping to 174 and finishing with a record of 23-7. Evans wrestled seven times at the NCAA Tournament, winning four matches and earning his first All-America honor.
“I’m still building,” Evans said. “I’m still improving and working on everything I need to accomplish.”
Evans came to the University of Iowa from Enola, Pa., where he compiled a record of 165-8 competing for Blair Academy. He continued his winning ways at Iowa, more specifically inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where he is 16-0.
Evans says that before each season, Brands reads a few rules for the team, including what he expects of each wrestler. Then he adds what fans in Carver-Hawkeye Arena expect.
“You are supposed to create a buzz about your wrestling,” Evans said. “Creating a buzz isn’t just for the fans, it’s for you. You want to do big things.”
Evans thrives on the motivation and energy the Hawkeye fans deliver.
“If I wasn’t at Iowa it wouldn’t be as demanding or stressful,” Evans said. “Some of it is fueled by the fans, your coaches, and you. You take some of that out of the equation and you’re not going to be as good of a wrestler as you could be.”
Some of the biggest matches of Evans’ career have come at home, including wins last season against Nick Heflin of Ohio State and Robert Kokesh of Nebraska — both opponents that entered the dual ranked No. 2 in the country. Another was a 4-3 decision against No. 4 Matt Brown of Penn State, who upset Evans 7-3 in the conference finals.
“You wrestle the same guys all year and to lose to a guy you beat earlier, that’s a kick in the rear to me,” Evans said. “There is no pat on the back that you lost to this guy and he’s pretty good. There is no consolation for that.”
Evans faced nine nationally ranked competitors during the final 12 matches of his sophomore season, including four in a row at nationals. He was 7-5 in those bouts, competing late in the season with injuries to his elbow and knee.
“You don’t downplay injury, but a lot of times in this sport you have to get over that, especially that time of year,” Brands said. “I think if he had to do it all over again he would re-evaluate how he would go into those matches, at least his mindset. I think he could have overcome a lot.”
It is a lesson that Evans has learned. He said he needs to block injuries out of his mind and not make them a factor in results.
“There was nothing afterward,” Evans said, referring to the season-ending NCAA Tournament. “That was it. It’s not like, `I’m injured, I don’t want to injure it anymore, so I’m going to stop now.'”
Despite winning more than 95-percent of the time in high school, Evans referred to that segment of his career as a “false sense of confidence.” After three years in the Hawkeye program (he was 22-2 during his redshirt season in 2010-11), Evans is gaining what he calls real confidence.
“I wasn’t beating good guys every week (in high school),” he said. “It was two or three weeks of scrubs and then you hit a big guy. When you get into the Big Ten and wrestling for Iowa, you beat consistent guys in a row, you build some real confidence.”
He began his redshirt freshman season with nine wins in a row. He started 9-0 as a sophomore, too. Evans doesn’t plan to stop this season until he is on top of the award stand, not in the sixth position.
“That was my goal last year and it was my goal the year before,” he said. “I’m building and progressing — not the way I want to — but there is improvement, so that is positive.”
And what about the facial hair? As in the past, Evans will begin the season clean-shaven. But then…
“I will have a mustache about halfway through the season,” he said. “That’s usually when it comes out.”
Evans doesn’t just excel on the mat; he earned academic honors last season from the Big Ten and the National Wrestling Coaches Association.
“Wrestling doesn’t take precedence over academics,” Evans said. “I might let wrestling take a little bit of the lead in wrestling season, but you hammer down at the beginning and at the end of the year in academics.”
After college, Evans wants to become a coach, where he will incorporate from all the mentors he has had.
“I have a couple screws loose up there, so you could say that is kind of like the Brands’,” he said with a smile.