Iowa Wrestling Roster Musical Chairs: Cook In, Mejia Out

By RossWB on August 11, 2017 at 2:44 pm
Sam Cook

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It's been a busy week for Iowa wrestling. In addition to finally releasing the schedule for the upcoming 2017-18 season, there's also been some action on the roster front, with some key names coming and going. Let's start with the good news: Sam Cook is switching from Iowa's football team to the wrestling program. If you don't remember much about Cook as a footballer, don't fret. Cook (no relation to Drew Cook, who remains on the football team as a tight end) was a freshman walk-on from Fort Dodge last year who redshirted. Cook was a two-way dynamo for Fort Dodge as a prep football player, rushing for 1838 yards and 25 touchdowns and racking up 56.5 tackles and three sacks as a senior and earning All-Iowa Male Athlete of the Year honors from The Des Moines Register in 2016

Unfortunately, Cook didn't quite have the physical attributes Iowa football needed. As a traditional running back, he's not quite fast enough and as a fullback, he was (and is) a bit undersized, listed at just 5'10" (which may be a bit generous) and 215 lbs. You may have also noticed that Iowa's depth chart has been pretty strong at running back and fullback over the last few years and appears in good shape heading forward as well (/knocks on all available wood to fend off AIRBHG),so there didn't appear to be many opportunities available for Cook. He wasn't one of the invites to training camp this year, which is usually a strong sign that a player isn't likely to receive much (or any) playing time in the coming season. 

Fortunately for Cook, football was not his only sport. It may not have even been his best sport, as a matter of fact. Cook was also a dominant wrestler in high school, winning Iowa state championships and going 45-0 as a senior. Per IAWrestle, Cook had scholarship offers from Oklahoma and Cal Poly and was the 68th best overall recruit in the Class of 2016 -- that's not too shabby. Now, as first reported by Tony Hager and IAWrestle, Cook is going back to wrestling -- and staying at Iowa to compete. 

Cook is expected to compete at 184 or 197 and should provide valuable depth for Iowa at the upper weights. Iowa has an excellent long-term option at 197 in Jacob Warner, a Top 10 overall recruit in 2017, who is expected to redshirt in 2017-18 before assuming a spot in the starting lineup. However, the future at 184 is much murkier; Sammy Brooks and his magnificent mullet have graduated and Iowa has no clear successor in place. Sophomore Cash Wilcke, junior Mitch Bowman, redshirt freshman Cade Brownlee are the leading options for that spot this season, but further competition would certainly be welcome. Given that Cook has just made the switch from football to wrestling, it may be expecting too much for him to immediately contend for a lineup spot in 2017-18, but he should be a factor soon. He's still somewhat undersized, but with his quickness and explosive power he could remind Iowa fans of Phil Keddy, another undersized 184er who was a three-time All-American on Iowa's last national championship-winning teams (2008-10). Welcome aboard, Mr. Cook. 

In less-good news, the saga of Justin Mejia has taken another turn and this one is bad news for the Hawkeyes. Mejia, as you may remember, gave a verbal commitment to Iowa back in the long-ago days of 2014, but then left last summer after Iowa secured commitments from Spencer Lee and Gavin Teasdale. After Teasdale decommitted from Iowa to join up with Penn State, Mejia eventually returned to the fold at Iowa earlier this summer. And now he's gone again, returning back to Illinois for his college career. Mejia is officially the Juan Harris of Iowa wrestling recruiting at this point. 

The details of Mejia's decision are unclear -- his comment to IAWrestle on the matter is just "Long story" -- although "transcript errors" and admissions issues have dogged him during this recruitment saga. I hope things work out for him at Illinois (except when he's wrestling Iowa) as he seems like a nice kid and if this whole process has been pretty exhausting for fans to follow, I can only imagine how stressful it's been for Mejia and his family. Best of luck on where his path takes him next. 

Mejia's departure does mean Iowa once again has several question marks at the light weights, particularly 133 lbs. Uber-recruit Spencer Lee is expected to man 125 lbs (hopefully for all four seasons), but 133 remains uncertain with the losses of Mejia, Teasdale, and Jason Renteria in recent years. That's a pretty bitter pill to swallow considering that Iowa has had an NCAA finalist at 133 lbs five years in a row and claimed two titles since 2014. One possible option could be in-state recruit Brody Teske, ranked 35th overall (and #3 at 120 lbs) in the Class of 2018, per InterMat. Interestingly, Teske is from Fort Dodge and is reportedly close to Cook, so Cook's decision to wrestle at Iowa could have positive ramifications for Iowa beyond what he's able to do at 184 or 197 lbs this year. There's some concern about whether Teske would be able to wrestle at 133 lbs (or Lee, for that matter), but that's a "problem" worth kicking down the road. The same questions existed with Thomas Gilman and Cory Clark when they were incoming recruits; things worked out pretty well in that situation. 

Mejia's departure is the most high-profile one suffered by Iowa this summer (although technically he wasn't even on the team just yet), but he isn't the only wrestler who's traded in black and gold for other colors recently. Skylar St. John, the younger brother of Iowa great Derek St. John and a competitor at 157/165 lbs, has left Iowa to join his brother (now a coach) at Iowa State. St. John wrestles at weights where Iowa is loaded with current (Kemerer, Marinelli) or future (Nelson Brands) talent, so mat time figured to be hard to come by in the coming years. Plus, the opportunity to be coached by his brother likely provided additional motivation for St. John's decision. Iowa granted St. John a release so he'll able to compete immediately; it's possible we may even see him in the Iowa-Iowa State dual next February. 

Meanwhile, Brock Rathbun, another lightweight wrestler (and potential option at 133 lbs this year), has also left Iowa; he's headed to D3 powerhouse Wartburg. Unlike St. John, Rathbun's path to mat time was much clearer: with Thomas Gilman and Cory Clark having graduated and Spencer Lee likely to redshirt while rehabbing from an ACL injury, things are in a bit of disarray at 125 and 133 lbs for Iowa. Rathbun, a three-time Iowa state champion, went 11-7 at 133/141 last year while redshirting, and could have been an option at 133 lbs this year (and possibly beyond that, given the uncertainty of the future at that weight). Unfortunately, he'll be doing his thing at Wartburg now and Iowa will have to look elsewhere for any answers at 133. Best of luck to Rathbun at the 'Burg. 

Of course, Iowa has also gained a few transfers this summer as well. In addition to the high-profile addition of Edinboro's Pat Lugo, Iowa got a transfer from another Pennsylvania-area wrestler in Pat Duggan. Duggan was once a top recruit -- #36 overall by InterMat after going 160-11 at Cumberland Valley and placing fourth or better all four years at the Pennsylvania State Wrestling Tournament -- but he's struggled in college so far, beginning at West Virginia before heading to Lock Haven, where he went 11-11 in the most recent season. Hopefully Duggan is able to turn things around in the Iowa practice room and turn some of that former potential into production. Due to NCAA transfer restrictions, he'll have to sit out the upcoming 2017-18 season, but he'll have two years of eligibility remaining after that. He currently projects at 141 or 149. Iowa has some question marks at 141 and no long-term solution at 149 (starter Brandon Sorenson will be a senior this year, although Lugo is expected to fill in for the next two seasons after Sorensen), so there may be an opportunity for Duggan to make his mark if he can regain his mojo. 

The comings and goings on the Iowa roster don't figure to be done yet, either. While nothing has yet been officially confirmed by Iowa, there has been a lot of discussion in Iowa wrestling circles that Patrick Downey III will be at Iowa this season. Downey himself has seemed to confirm that on Twitter as well: 

Downey, a former All-American, is a... polarizing figure, to put it mildly. He was dismissed from Iowa State earlier this year for "repeated violations of team rules" and has had several legal issues in the past as well. His Twitter feed has been particularly infamous over the last few years, especially after his dismissal from Iowa State. On the other hand, he comes across better in this piece. It may be a while before we hear any sort of confirmation from Iowa (or see Downey in an Iowa singlet, if that is indeed happening); in order to compete he'll need to graduate from Iowa State this fall and then join Iowa as a grad transfer in the second semester (January). So let's check back in a few months and see what the story is here at that time. 

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