Learning to wait … and lose … without much attention part of redshirt dilemma

Updated: January 20, 2017

By Mike Finn

Iowa redshirt freshman Michael Kemerer (right) won the Midlands in December, one year after the Hawkeye finished fifth while redshirting in 2015-16.

“It was lonely too. I remember there were nights when I’d go back to the dorm and I was alone. I had a twin brother but I realized it was about me. It’s not about your mommy, you daddy, your brother. It’s how you talk to yourself. There were never doubts for me.”

— Tom Brands

It’s been over 25 years since the current Iowa coach spent the 1987-88 college season adjusting to his first year wrestling for the Hawkeye program.

Compared to his successful past competing at Sheldon (Iowa) High School or later at Iowa where Tom and his brother Terry each won multiple NCAA championships and All-American honors, there would be little success on the mat that first season when — like many freshman — Brands wore the NCAA redshirt; allowing him one year to learn the demands and pains of college wrestling without it counting towards his official college career.

“I remember getting the ‘you know what’ beaten out of me, but I remember that there were a lot of people who helped me,” Brands said. “If I got beat up, there were people who would help to mentor me.

“Say for example Barry Davis or Randy Lewis beat me like 100-1 and the one point I got he gave me, they would spend time with me and mentor me and teach and coach me.”

That is the same system Brands and many NCAA coaches provide for many past high school stars who discover the demands of Division I wrestling are much higher than they experienced as preps.

And while Penn State’s Mark Hall’s “redshirt” experience has caught a lot of attention after the former six-time Minnesota state champ won the prestigious Southern Scuffle, most other redshirts have toiled in anonymity.

One of those was Michael Kemerer, the former Pennsylvania state champion from Franklin Regional who won four open tournaments and compiled a 24-2 record as a true freshman in 2015-16, but did so without much notice.

“It’s definitely a transition once you get to college, where there are no breaks, especially in this (Iowa wrestling) room,” said Kemerer, who uses the word “learning” to describe his first season in Iowa City.

“It was learning about your body, learning how to prepare your mind every day and find consistency and the right mindset every day,” said the 157-pound Hawkeye.

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