By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Six minutes into University of Iowa head wrestling coach Tom Brands’ weekly news conference, senior 125-pounder Thomas Gilman tapped his coach on the shoulder and said, “I can take it from here.”
Brands smiled, finished his statement, and graciously obliged.
Gilman was just getting warmed up with three minutes of always-candid responses when senior 184-pounder Sammy Brooks pushed through a throng of news cameras and reporters, hoisted Gilman on his shoulder and set him down 10 yards away in the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex.
“Thanks for scooting over a bit,” Brooks said, before monopolizing the interview.
Senior Day is Sunday and an interesting, diverse, and entertaining group of five Hawkeye seniors will be introduced following a dual against Nebraska (12-2 overall, 6-2 Big Ten).
Gilman is the diminutive natural leader with his unfiltered commentary and tenacious competitiveness. The most decorated is Cory Clark at 133, a three-time All-American, two-time NCAA finalist, and 2016 Big Ten champion. Topher Carton has yet to be in a postseason lineup, but his persistent improvement makes him a tough draw for anyone in the nation at 141. The scholar of the group is Alex Meyer at 174. A human physiology major, Meyer has an Academic All-America award resting next to his All-America plaque. Brooks is 184 pounds of unique jokester.
“These guys have done a lot of winning and there could be a lot of icing on the cake with championships,” Brands said. “We have two Big Ten champions in the group (Clark and Brooks) and we look to keep adding to that number.”
Gilman (97-11) and Brooks (93-22) have 93-or-more victories, Clark is 89-13, Meyer is 81-20, and Carton is 64-22. Combined, the Hawkeye seniors are 110-17 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, a winning percentage of 86.6.
“I love wrestling in Carver, it is special,” Meyer said. “Our fans make it so loud and so much fun. They get behind us and every time it gets a little better. It’s one of those things you have to feel, you can’t imagine the sounds or sights, but it is something you feel instead of other senses.”
Meyer describes the Hawkeye Class of 2017 as tough with a variety of personalities.
“It has been a good five years with this group of seniors,” Meyer said. “All of us are in the lineup now and I’m looking forward to going out with a win and having fun doing it.”
Carton arrived latest to the party. Last season he looked on as Brody Grothus represented the Hawkeyes at 141. He was behind Josh Dziewa in 2014 and 2015.
“It has been a fun ride,” Carton said. “I bought into the system and yes, it took me a little longer. Coming in, I wasn’t necessarily one of the highly recruited guys, but I have been blessed to be a part of this.”
Then Carton paused, turned his back to media and pointed toward the All-American board hanging on a wall in the wrestling room.
“I’m the only senior who is not on there right now,” Carton said. “That’s motivation and puts a fire under you.”
To date, Gilman, Clark, Carton, Meyer, and Brooks have 424 individual wins, three appearances in an NCAA finals match, two Big Ten individual championships, a 59-5 team dual record, two Big Ten dual team championships, and one Big Ten team tournament championship. In the NCAA Championships from 2014-16, Iowa has finished fourth, second, and fifth.
“You always want to win championships,” Brands said. “From where I’m at, what they have given the program, even though they haven’t won a national championship, is a jolt in the attitude, commitment, and character department. They have been straight-up and honest and learned along the way.”
The Hawkeyes defeated Indiana on the road Friday, improving to 11-2, 7-1. The regular-season finale against the Cornhuskers begins at 2 p.m. (CT). The dual will feature 15 nationally ranked wrestlers, including all five Iowa seniors.
“Wrestling in Carver is something not many people get to do,” Brooks said. “I will cherish it and have a ton of gratitude, but I still want to frickin’ win.”