Trent Johnson has been waiting for his wrestling moment.
The Dike-New Hartford senior understands why he’s better known for football, but his sports heart belongs to the mats.
And it’s time for the state’s all-time leading rusher to show that at the state tournament.
“I absolutely love wrestling and I have fun doing it,” Johnson said after a first-round pin on Thursday.
“It’s always been my dream to wrestle in college and my family is a wrestling family.”
Johnson enters the Class 1A tournament as the top-ranked wrestler at 145 pounds. It’s still fair to consider him football-first, after racking up 7,653 yards on the ground as a three-year star at running back for the Wolverines. He almost eclipsed 3,000 yards in 2A last fall.
But there’s a reason he decided to pursue wrestling in college, committing to Grand View in October.
“Nobody wants a skinny, 5-foot-6 running back,” he said with a laugh. “I felt like I could be more successful in wrestling. I wasn’t going to go somewhere and just be part of a team. I want to compete and I want to play.”
For all Johnson (40-1) has accomplished on the gridiron, his prep wrestling career has been defined by “almost.” Coaches know he’s constantly working to improve and want to see it pay off for him.
“My wife was his teacher in first grade and I told me about him then,” Dike-New Hartford coach Tony Norton said. “She had never seen a kid that focused, even in first grade. Plus he had started wrestling in kindergarten and did very well through the AAU circuit and all the way to here.
“It didn’t take long to figure out he was different.”
A promising third-place finish as a freshman was followed by a semifinal loss in 2015 to the eventual champion at 132. He fell to sixth-place in the consolations, losing three matches in Des Moines after dropping one all season.
And last season’s stings the most. Johnson was a 7-1 finals loser to Lisbon’s four-time champion Carter Happel, playing a bit part in the sprawling celebration.
“This week and last week all my friends would call me over in study hall and they would be watching that (Happel) match,” Johnson said. “They’d show it to me because they know how my mind works. I want to be the best at everything I do.”
This tournament is supposed to be Johnson’s turn.
“He’s got the physical tools, but he’s so much more mentally prepared,” Norton said. “He’s grounded, works hard every day, does the right things, has good structure at home. And he’s got the highest expectations for himself.”
Johnson is scheduled to take on AHSTW senior Joel Becerra in Friday’s quarterfinals. He could become Dike-New Hartford’s second four-time place-winner in the process.
RELATED: Friday’s Class 1A must-see matches
Luck of the draw?
First-round pairings can be pretty rough with more than 90 teams represented in the Class 1A field. Take Garrett Sayler’s word for it.
Sibley-Ocheyedan’s 160-pound senior entered the week ranked 10th, but was set to face Missouri Valley’s Nathan Haynes in Wednesday’s duals and Thursday’s tournament opener. Haynes was last year’s runner-up and ranked fourth, and edged Sayler in the team format, 6-5.
By reversing fortunes in a 5-2 decision on Thursday, Sayler advanced and bounced a seeded wrestler.
“(Haynes) is a great opponent and he’s a great wrestler,” Sayler said. “I mean, he made the finals last year. It was just really nice to get that win. I’m still pretty sore from yesterday.”
A handful of other ranked matchups highlighted the afternoon session as well, like top-ranked Austin Leopard of Louisa-Muscatine pinning eighth-ranked Kyle Decker of East Buchanan at 138, or No. 2 Brennan Swafford of Mediapolis pinning Michael Olsen of Lake Mills at 152.
Even at 113 pounds, the district champions won four and lost four matches against the district runners-up across from them.
There are no easy rounds in Des Moines.
“Getting to wrestle him and know what he does — he likes to shoot that outside single and I knew that coming in,” Sayler said. “That helped quite a bit.”
Lisbon vs. Don Bosco, Part II
Wednesday’s championship dual was just a preview of what’s to come atop the 1A standings.
Top-ranked Lisbon pulled away from the second-ranked Dons in the team format, but the individual tournament has Don Bosco with a one-point advantage through one day.
Coach Tom Hogan’s team advanced six wrestlers to Friday’s quarterfinals, with three more winning consolation matches. By comparison, Lisbon won six first-round matches and two consolations. And it’s tough to tell what’s going to separate these teams the rest of the weekend.
“We knew Don Bosco was tough,” Lisbon’s 106-pound sophomore Cobe Siebrecht said Wednesday. “But we’re all hungry and ready to go for this week.”
Siebrecht didn’t get to wrestle Don Bosco’s top-ranked Daniel Kimball in Wednesday’s dual, instead pinning a reserve in 10 seconds. Both northeast Iowa programs are likely to rack up bonus points in the tournament format, too.
“If we continue like we have been, we’ll be in good shape,” Lisbon coach Brad Smith said.
Let’s do it again
Six state champions returned to 1A from last year’s tournament. All of them finished work early in the first round on Thursday.
Wapsie Valley’s Donnie Schmit (126 pounds), Alburnett’s Tanner Sloan (170), Lake Mills’s Slade Sifuentes (195) and Iowa City Regina’s Jared Brinkman (285) pinned their opponents. Sloan set the top speed: 54 seconds against Akron-Westfield’s Daniel Martinsen.
North Linn’s Brock Henderson (120), and Underwood’s Alex Thomsen used technical falls to finish their matches. The unbeaten Thomsen has now recorded a tech in four of his nine career state tournament matches, with Thursday’s ending 20-5 in 3:25.
Schuck set in second place
Sibley-Ocheyedan senior Dylan Schuck is already stuck with second place. No, the 145-pound standout didn’t finish his tournament early. He’s just set for second in state history for career pins.
Schuck entered the week with 148 and added three more quick falls at Wednesday’s duals. Chip in a 52-second stoppage in Thursday’s first round and he’s at 152, but with only three possible wins left, he’ll come up short of Max Thomsen’s record of 157; Union of LaPorte City’s four-time champ set his record from 2012-15. Schuck is currently ranked second at 145 behind the aforementioned Johnson.
FRIDAY’S CLASS 1A SCHEDULE
9:00—Quarterfinals and second round consolations
7:30—Semifinals and third round consolations
1. Don Bosco 22; 2. Lisbon 21; 3. Sibley-Ocheyedan 16; 4. Missouri Valley 15; 5. Alburnett 13; 6. tie, Lake Mills, Westwood 12; 8. Underwood 11.5; 9. tie, Dike-New Hartford, Logan-Magnolia, Martensdale-St. Marys 11.