Sept. 8, 2011
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- When Joe Williams was in middle school, his sights were set on one thing - wrestling for Dan Gable at the University of Iowa. Williams made good on his goal, and turned it into a Hall of Fame career with the Hawkeyes.
Williams is one of six inductees into the National Iowa Varsity Club Athletics Hall of Fame this weekend. The 2011 class consists of Keith McCanless (men's gymnastics), Sherwyn Thorson (football, wrestling), Tim Dwight (football, track and field), Mary Koboldt (field hockey) and former head baseball coach Duane Banks.
"This is the best feeling in the world," said Williams, a three-time NCAA champion and two-time Big Ten champion with the Hawkeyes. "In sixth grade, I had a dream and passion to wrestle for Dan Gable and the University of Iowa.
"It is certainly something I will remember the rest of my life... the friends I've made, the teams I've been on. It's a great, great honor for me."
Williams looks back fondly of his time in Iowa City. Not only was he a part of a wrestling dynasty - four Big Ten team titles and four team NCAA championships - but the relationships he formed with Gable, the coaching staff and teammates is what stands out.
"Coach Gable understands how to read different people and different athletes," said Williams. "From the get-go, I think he was able to read me, not only as a coach, but as a person. The relationship that we shared off the mat was just as important as on the mat. I think that kind of made me want to do things beyond what everyone else did because of that relationship."
Williams teamed with a "who's who" list of UI wrestlers in his career, including Eric Juergens, Mark Ironside, Lincoln Mcllravy and Jeff McGinness. In his corner were the likes of Tom Brands, Jim Zalesky and Gable.
"Reminiscing about the guys that we had on our team and the coaching staff that was in place brings back a lot of memories," said Williams. "The camaraderie we had with one another is something that will always be remembered."
"Every time someone brings up wrestling or our accomplishments, that is something I go back on. Being able to send Gable out on top in his last season before he retired was something truly remarkable."
Hall of Fame wrestler Joe Williams
With the bond he shared with his teammates and Gable, Williams will never forget being able to send his former coach into retirement with the 1997 NCAA championship.
"Every time someone brings up wrestling or our accomplishments, that is something I go back on," said Williams. "Being able to send Gable out on top in his last season before he retired was something truly remarkable."
In Williams' first season as a Hawkeye in 1994, he placed seventh in the nation at 158 pounds. After redshirting during the 1995 season, he claimed the first of three NCAA titles with two coming in the 158-pould weight class, and the final coming at 167.
In his final season, Williams was dominant. He posted a 34-0 record and claimed the NCAA title at 167 pounds, which led to him being named the Outstanding Wrestler of the Championships. One of his most memorable moments in a Hawkeye singlet came early in that senior season.
"During my senior year before one of our dual meets, Tom (Brands) came up to me, sat down beside me, and said `hey, this is your last year, let's do everything that we can to accomplish our goals'," said Williams. "That, to me, was kind of my defining moment.
"Before I hadn't really looked back on my career, but when he said that to me, it was him making a statement saying, this is it, this is your last season as a Hawkeye."
Williams can't talk about his time as an Iowa wrestler without mentioning the fans.
"The fans, you love them, and they motivate you," he said. "That's something that gets me fired up just thinking about it.
"I have not experienced a fan atmosphere like at Iowa. I think the reason why the fans are so great is because they know wrestling. They're going to tell you when you did a crappy job, and they're going to tell you when you did a great job. They know the sport and that kept me on my toes as an athlete."
Williams stays active in the wrestling circles by running a kids' wrestling club in Rockford, Ill. He watches the Hawkeyes from afar, but one thing is certain -- he is humbled by his selection into the UI Athletics Hall of Fame.
"Just looking at some of the people that have come before me and to be among those people means a great deal," said Williams. "To represent the university in this fashion certainly means a lot."