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Photos: Shortly before Ben Kueter started his final year of high school in Iowa City, the three-time state wrestling champ won a Junior World title in August. And within two weeks of becoming a World champ, Kueter was back on the football field as a running back and linebacker for City High School. (Photos by Kadir Caliskan and City High Little Hawk newspaper.)
By Pat McDonald
In a time when more and more athletes are deciding to focus on one sport, Ben Kueter is taking a different approach.
And it’s safe to say it has paid off for the Iowa City, Iowa, native.
Kueter traveled to Bulgaria this summer and came home with a U20 World Championships title at 97 kilos. When he got back to his hometown, Kueter didn’t take much time to celebrate that tournament win. He put on his helmet and pads for City High School as the star linebacker and running back and prepared for his senior campaign.
“It wasn’t too hard honestly, just because I enjoy football so much,” Kueter said. “Leading up to Bulgaria, I was still practicing football and doing my thing with that. I think I might have (taken) one day off and that was right before I left, and then I got right back at it when I got home.
“I think I had a week-and-a-half before my first game. It might look like it’s tough from the outside, but I don’t really look at it like something I had to do or have to do. It’s something I get to do because I enjoy it and it’s just fun to me.”
Kueter, who has committed to play football and wrestle at the University of Iowa, has also played baseball and ran track for his high school. He said training for multiple sports at the same time is all about staying focused.
“It’s just always about keeping your mind open,” he said. “Like this summer, it would be a wrestling workout in the morning to maybe a football lift and then a baseball workout later in the day.
“The biggest thing my coaches have emphasized is when it’s a wrestling workout, focus on wrestling and that’s it. Just be in the moment and be in the present at your wrestling workout. When it’s a football workout, you’re not focusing on wrestling or baseball. You’re focused on football.”
Kueter did get a chance to celebrate a little bit with his family, friends and community when he got back from Bulgaria.
“(Iowa is) the wrestling capital of the world and to be able to bring a world title back to Iowa City is pretty surreal,” he said. “I had a pretty big welcome party when I got home at my high school and at the airport. It’s always fun having a lot of support. Not just in Iowa City, but I have great support all over Iowa and all over the country so I was just super grateful to be able to wrestle overseas and represent my country, state and town.”
But his focus quickly turned to the football field where he’s hoping to lead the Iowa City Little Hawks deep into the playoffs this fall.
“Honestly, just get back to the (UNI Dome, site of the semifinals and championship games),” he said. “Get back to the state semifinals and get past that and make it to the state finals.”
Kueter, a four-star linebacker, believes wrestling is extremely helpful when it comes to playing football — especially on the defensive side of the ball.
When football season ends, Kueter will turn his focus back to the mats where he will look to become a four-time Iowa state champion.
“Just wrestle my style honestly and impose my will on other people,” Kueter said on what he needs to do to accomplish that goal.
Kueter, ranked No. 1 by WIN nationally at 220 pounds, understands he will get everyone’s best shot when he takes the mat this season. But that’s nothing new for the 2022 Junior World champ.
“I (don’t think) winning a world title will put a (bigger) target on my back. For some kids, yeah. I don’t really wrestle that many duals with kids not wanting to wrestle me and stuff,” he said. “It’s great. I love being able to be in that position and get everybody’s best every match because that means I have to be on my ‘A game’ every single match and it never really gives me a chance to stop or take a break.”
Kueter, who started wrestling at age 4 and wrestled at 160 pounds when his prep career began, is looking forward to one final trip to Des Moines for the Iowa state tournament where he will look to join some elite company.
“I love the state tournament in Iowa,” he said. “There’s nothing like it. I mean like I said, it’s the wrestling capital of the world and going to Des Moines for the state tournament is just a fun time.
“Obviously it’s a goal every kid has entering high school and not a lot of kids get to attain that goal, so to be able to have that opportunity to do that, I’m just super grateful for it. I’m excited and looking forward to it, but I know I’m getting ready to do bigger and better things than just my last high school state tournament.”
Those bigger and better things will take place just down the road at the University of Iowa, where Kueter will tackle both sports.
Kueter said Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz and Hawkeye wrestling coach Tom Brands were focused on one thing: getting the Iowa City standout on campus.
“Their biggest thing is they wanted me to be a Hawk,” said Kueter. “Coach Ferentz was like ‘If that means you’re just wrestling, great, you’re a Hawk,’ and same thing with Brands.
“I’m young right now and I couldn’t really see myself giving up one or the other, so they gave me the opportunity to do both and I’m going to do it my freshman year and see how it works out.”
While Kueter knows it will be a challenge to be a dual-sport athlete at the Division I level, he’s looking forward to taking it on.
“I mean I don’t look at it like a task when I get to Iowa,” Kueter said. “I know it’s going to be hard, but I enjoy it. I love it. I eat, sleep and breathe that stuff so that’s going to be exciting,” he said.
For Kueter, getting a chance to go from playing as a City High Little Hawk to becoming an Iowa Hawkeye is special.
“It’s pretty surreal to be honest,” he said. “You go to those games at Kinnick since you’re a kid playing at the tailgates, playing football with all those kids, wearing their jerseys and stuff. Being able to look back at that and having that dream and then now I’m getting ready to live that … it’s pretty crazy,” Kueter said.
And for many young wrestlers in Iowa, getting a chance to compete before thousands of fans on Iowa’s home mat in Carver-Hawkeye Arena is the ultimate dream.
“There’s nothing like it,” he said. “It’s a packed house every night with great fans who love to get into it, love to get intense. Who wouldn’t want to go out there and put on a show for those people?”
(Pat McDonald has covered wrestling for more than 20 years in Pennsylvania, New York and Maine. In that time, he has won awards from the Pennsylvania News Media Association, New York News Publishers Association and the Maine Press Association. He is currently the executive sports editor of the Morning Times and Daily Review newspapers in Bradford County, Pa., and also serves on the board of directors for the Maine Amateur Wrestling Alliance.)