Iowa’s Marion is the comeback kid on a serious side

Updated: February 10, 2011

Column by Mike Finn, WIN Editor

It was a moment that many may eventually consider the turning point of the 2010-11 collegiate wrestling season.

Montell Marion, a national runner-up at 141 pounds last March, had to wait 316 days to wrestle again for Iowa after he was initially kicked off the squad for breaking team rules.

For Montell Marion, it may be the moment that really convinced him to turn his life around.

For about seven minutes on Jan. 30 before a packed Rec Hall on the Penn State campus, Marion saw his first match of the season go from being on his back — off an exceptional hip toss by an exceptional freshman Andrew Alton — to the 141-pound Iowa junior rallying with three takedowns in the final period to win that bout, 11-9, and help the Hawkeyes leave State College with a stunning 21-13 victory over the top-ranked Nittany Lions.

Oddly in Marion’s second match of the season against Indiana on Feb. 4, the Hawkeye had to rally again with multiple takedowns in the final period to beat Mitchell Richey.

“It’s not the way I want to do things,” Marion said. “It’s not what I’m about. I want to be out in front at first and finish strong through the end.

“I don’t want to be about comebacks”

But Marion’s life is a comeback, literally … and for all the wrestling nation to see by virtue of returning from a disqualification from the entire Iowa wrestling program when the NCAA runner-up from Des Moines, Iowa, broke team rules and was kicked off the squad last spring.

The details of that moment are not known, but it apparently dealt with alcohol and became a multiple miscue for Marion; one too many for the Iowa athletic department that was forced to drop Marion.

“The easiest thing for him to have done was to transfer … and it would have been the worst thing for him to do, I believe,” said Iowa coach Tom Brands, who is well aware that some non-Iowa fans believed he gave Marion a second chance simply to salvage a season that may not have lived up to Iowa standards considering over half of the line-up was made up of underclassmen.

But for Brands, the question about Marion dealt with more than wrestling. It dealt with living and decisions that Marion would make; starting with the decision to enroll again at Iowa not knowing if he’d be allowed to compete again.

“The good thing about the story is that Montell had no guarantee and he followed through,” said Brands, who added that there were “no hoops for Marion to jump through” but rather a process.

“There were four parts to him getting back on the team,” Brands said. “One part is wrestling, but the three parts that had to happen before anything were continued rehab in sobriety, academics and community service. He’s done all that.

“There is progress, absolutely, but we’re not out of the woods. This is a dangerous time in his life and as long as he understands that and understands that he needs to continue to work hard, he will be fine.

“Sobriety is a day-by-day process. You are never better with alcoholism. It’s one day at a time.”

And Marion, who was welcomed back to Carver-Hawkeye Arena with a standing ovation, is well aware of his coach’s thought.

“For sure this is it for me,” said Marion, who had stops at Northern Iowa and the Olympic Training Center before transferring to Iowa in 2009.

“There is no more leeway for me. I am at the end of my rope and I have to make the best of it.”

At this point, winning or just wrestling is icing on the cake for Marion’s comeback.