Oh, what a tangled web recruiting can be. Justin Mejia, who became a four-time state champion in California, initially committed to wrestle at Iowa back in November of 2014 as a sophomore, along with Illinois standout Jason Renteria. They were well-regarded lightweight prospects and became Top 50 overall prospects in the Class of 2017. But Iowa didn't stop pursuing other lightweights, including Spencer Lee, an all-everything talent at 125 lbs and the top overall recruit in the class of 2017. And then they got him -- as well as a verbal commitment from another top Class of 2018 lightweight from Pennsylvania, Gavin Teasdale.
That made things awfully crowded for Iowa's future at 125/133 and last summer Mejia and Renteria decided to take their talents elsewhere. Mejia ultimately landed at Illinois, while Renteria went to Nebraska. Then Teasdale decommitted to join in-state powerhouse Penn State. Iowa went from briefly having four high-level lightweight recruits across the 2017 and 2018 recruiting classes to just one in Lee. All of a sudden the future of Iowa's lightweight ranks, which had been virtually unassailable since 2010, was looking a little shakier. Well, the future of those weights is on a little bit more solid footing now, because Mejia has found his way back to Iowa City:
I am honored to be heading to the university of IOWA pic.twitter.com/TIBQS8dYpl
— J-izzo (@jmejia106) June 28, 2017
To recap: Iowa went from having Mejia and Renteria to Mejia, Renteria, Lee, and Teasdale to Lee and Teasdale to just Lee to now Lee and Mejia. Whew.
Mejia ended the season as the #42 overall recruit in the 2017 class, as well as #4 at 126 lbs, per Flowrestling. He also ended the year with his fourth straight California state championship, which is a pretty heady accomplishment. Unlike states like Iowa, who break each weight down into multiple classes (3A, 2A, 1A in Iowa), California has a single-class free-for-fall for their state championships. So you get the best 126-lb guys from tiny rural schools taking on the best 126-lb guys from juggernaut urban schools; may the best man win. Over the last four years, that best man has been Mejia among the lower weights.
As for how Mejia ended up at Iowa in the end, it seems like a confluence of events. One, Iowa once again had an opening in the lightweight ranks after Teasdale bolted for a school closer to home. Two, Mark Perry, who helped recruit Mejia to Illinois, decamped from Champaign to Iowa City to run the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. Three, per IAWrestle, Mejia was "denied admission into Illinois due to a transcript error," which made him a man without a school at that point. (If a transcript "error" was keeping him out of Illinois, I would assume it was fixed in order to get him into Iowa and it's not clear why Illinois wouldn't have still been interested in him if that "error" could get fixed. Or maybe they were still interested, but Mejia wanted out of Illinois. Perhaps we'll find out more about the details involved here at some point.)
Mejia's arrival gives Iowa another good option for the future in the lightweight ranks and brings back into the fold a kid who was extremely excited about being a Hawkeye. Let's not forget that this was a kid who paid his own way from Clovis to Iowa City to wrestle at the Agon V freestyle event and even wrestled in a custom-made Iowa singlet:
This kid has been burning to be a Hawkeye for a while and now it seems that he'll finally get his chance. It was disappointing when it didn't seem like things were going to work out after Lee and Teasdale came aboard -- unfortunately, sometimes guys get squeezed out in the recruiting whirlwind -- but now it looks like we might get a second chance to root for him at Iowa after all. Mejia wrestles with a lot of energy and aggression and has a go-go-go approach that should endear him to Hawkeye fans quickly. He's struggled at times against some of the better competition he's faced outside of California, so he probably needs some work before he's ready to try and add to Iowa's incredible list of recent success at 125 and 133.
Luckily, he's in probably the best wrestling room in the country for a lightweight, surrounded by training partners like Lee, Thomas Gilman, Cory Clark, Dan Dennis, Jesse Delgado, and -- oh yeah -- those Brands brothers fellas. Wrestling those guys day in and day out should help him improve in a hurry. A redshirt in 2017-18 still seems likely, although Iowa doesn't have many good options at 125/133 this year, so you never know. Long term, hopefully someone points Mejia to the protein shakes as soon as he gets on campus. He and Lee both appear to be around 125 now, but assuming Lee makes a full recovery from his ACL injury last spring (and doesn't bulk up to 133 in the process), he'll be a pretty heavy favorite to man 125 for the next several years. If Mejia wants to see the lineup, he's best off eyeing 133 lbs and adding some muscle. But this is a pretty good problem to have. It certainly didn't turn out too badly for Iowa the last time they had a pair of very solid 125 lbers (Gilman and Clark).
Welcome (back) aboard, Mr. Mejia. We're excited to see you finally get your shot to be a Hawkeye.