Nov. 10, 2010
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Friday, Aug. 13, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2010-11 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- You won't find the name Tony Ramos in any preseason national wrestling ranking, but then again, you might not find him in the starting lineup for the University of Iowa. That's the peculiar landscape with the three-time defending national champion Hawkeyes this season: no one knows what to expect...yet.
With sophomore national champion Matt McDonough securing the 125-pound weight division for a second consecutive season, up-and-comers like Ramos are scurrying for mat time at 133. The battle there includes Ramos, juniors Tyler Clark and J.J. Krutsinger and sophomore Nate Moore.
"Those are four guys who could probably start at any other Division I school," Ramos says.
The University of Iowa isn't any other Division I school. The Hawkeyes own 34 Big Ten Conference and 23 national championship trophies and have won 61 straight dual meets. But with vacancies at nine of 10 weight classes, early prognostications have been less-than-flattering. The Open Mat has Iowa fifth, D1 College Wrestling, sixth, and Wrestling Institute Newsletter, 11th.
"That's a joke to us," Ramos says. "Any team we put out there has a shot at winning national titles. Yeah, we're young, but these are some of the toughest guys I've ever seen. I think we can even be better than last year's team."
It won't be long before Hawkeye fans and the rest of the wrestling community receives a more formal introduction to this self-assured warrior. With a combination of Kenny Monday's speed and Brent Metcalf's confidence, Ramos should be attracting the attention of some of the highly-regarded 133 pounders in the nation like Andrew Hochstrasser of Boise State, Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State and Tyler Graff of Wisconsin.
"I want to win national titles. I've wrestled all these kids before, it's nothing different, we're just in college now," Ramos says. "I've surrounded myself with great coaches, I'm working harder and smarter, and I have the best partners in the world."
UI head coach Tom Brands likes the competitiveness that Ramos exhibits, labeling him a `mat rat.'
"He's a wrestler and he's a student of the sport," Brands said. "What we would like to see is more offense out of him, but that's not to say he can't score points, because he can. He can hit holds, but he has to be more of an initiator and more of a repeater and he's getting better."
The 133-pound position is unoccupied because of the graduation of Daniel Dennis, an NCAA runner-up in 2010. The past two seasons Dennis won 54 of 64 matches and was a two-time All-American.
"Daniel really took me under his wing and helped me out a lot," Ramos says. "He showed me that a lot of it is done on your own when the coaches aren't in the room; going in at nighttime or in the morning; getting in a nice run or a drill or a lift. He taught me the nutrition part -- what's healthy to eat, how to get your weight down."
Like Dennis, Ramos is a native of the state of Illinois, growing up in Carol Stream where he was a three-time state champion and two-time team MVP for Glenbard North at 112 and 125 pounds. His parents have since moved to Johnsburg, a three-hour commute to Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Ramos was recruited by Oklahoma State, Nebraska and the home-state Illini and his brother attended Indiana. But Ramos, an elementary education major, always wanted to be a Hawkeye.
"If you want to win, you have to put yourself in the best position, and the coaches here are phenomenal," Ramos says. "You have Tom (Bands), who is an Olympic champion and you have Terry (Brands), who coached at the highest level you can coach on the Olympic team. There's no other place you can go and have that kind of coaching with (Mike) Zadick, who is a World Team member. At Iowa you surround yourself with the best guys and they aren't just focused on winning national titles, they want to win Olympic titles and World titles."
When he first arrived at Iowa, Ramos became more acquainted with the UI medical staff than the coaching staff. After the first practice he felt severe pain in his thigh; an MRI was done and Ramos was set to have his left knee scoped.
"They went in and said there was no way they were scoping it," Ramos said. "I broke my knee cap and it went up into my thigh. They cut it open, threw some of it away and pinned some of it down."
And told him he wouldn't be back on a wrestling mat for four months.
"I told them that (much time off) wasn't going to happen," Ramos says. His goal of competing at the Midlands Championship at the end of December was not met, but he did return 2 ½ months after the injury and competed 12 times -- winning them all, six times by fall.
"I kept working at it every day," Ramos says. "They wanted to keep me off the mat and I kept pushing it and pushing it. Everything is great now, it doesn't bother me at all and I don't notice it anymore. There's a scar, but it's like a brand new knee."
So far as a collegian, Ramos has competed at the York College Open, Grand View Open and the Duhawk Open -- all far cries from 15,000 fans in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"I'm going to feel right at home when I step out on Carver," Ramos said. "You have all those people there watching you go out and perform for the entire state. It's one of the greatest feelings in the world."
And when you go into hostile arenas?
"I get up even more for those matches," Ramos says. "I love when people want you to lose and tell you that you can't do something. That's my favorite thing in the world. If someone tells me I can't do it or if someone is against me, I'm going to go out there and make it happen."