Editor’s note: Nathan Ford of Grinnell is a sophomore at Wartburg College, where he is sports editor for the Wartburg Trumpet, co-sports director at KWAR and a staff member for Wartburg Television.
By Nathan Ford, community contributor
WAVERLY — All Kenny Anderson could think about was wrestling. But none of the people he spent eight hours a day with even knew he wrestled.
Just two years ago, the three-time Massachusetts and New England champion had left Iowa Central Community College to wash buses full time.
“It was miserable,” Anderson said. “Everyday I hated it and every day I was like ‘I gotta get out of here.’”
Anderson, a native of Bilerica, Mass., planned to transfer from Iowa Central to a Division I school to wrestle. After a year at Iowa Central, he quit school and left wrestling behind to begin working full time.
“There were a few times where I almost just dropped my soap and sponge and walked home,” Anderson said. “I don’t know how many times it went through my head, I was so close.”
Eventually the time came when Anderson couldn’t take it anymore. That’s when he found Wartburg.
Anderson’s roommates at Iowa Central were Bradley and Carrington Banks, who transferred to Wartburg and convinced Anderson to follow them to Waverly.
“I visited here and I liked it and I really like Milboy (co-head coach Jim Miller) and (co-head coach Eric) Keller,” Anderson said.
Miller said he didn’t even know Anderson and had only talked to him a few times before he came to Wartburg.
“We have a lot of faith in Carrington and those guys,” Miller said. “Carrington knew what kind of kid we were looking for and when someone like that speaks up for somebody all of a sudden our interest shot way up.”
Anderson returned to the mat for the 2011-12 season as a Wartburg Knight.
“It was scary at first because, just being so out of shape and the mindset of wishing you were in competition to being in competition,” Anderson said.
Anderson quickly racked up win after win at his 125-pound weight class, much to the delight of Miller and Keller.
“He’s been the most consistent, he goes hard every match, you know exactly what you’re gonna get each time and he’s established himself nationally because of that,” Miller said.
Anderson’s first loss of the season came at the NWCA National Duals against North Central’s Nathan Fitzenreider.
A couple months later, Anderson set the tone for the Knight’s national championship by defeating Fitzenreider for an individual title in the first Wartburg match of the day.
“It sounds corny but it was a dream come true,” Anderson said. “I remember everyday I’d be washing those buses just thinking about wrestling nonstop, the whole workday, thinking about what I’d be doing if I was on that mat.”
Turns out he would be winning national championships.
Keller said most wrestlers would not have been able to bounce back from a major decision defeat to beat the same wrestler for the national championship.
“There’s a lot of people that would have a real hard time to be able to do what he did so I think it kind of speaks to the kind of guy he is,” Keller said.
Miller never counted Anderson out even after losing in the National Duals.
“We don’t put limits on him and I don’t think, obviously, he does either,” Miller said.
This year Anderson had moved up to 133, where he is undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the nation heading into the national championships next weekend at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
But Anderson’s biggest accomplishment, and one his coaches are proud of, might be getting his education.
“He’s had an opportunity to see what life could be like if he didn’t get his education, if he didn’t take school seriously, if he didn’t basically buckle down and focus on what’s important and I think that perspective and being in that situation gave him a whole new view of ‘hey man, this is what I don’t want to do,’” Keller said.
The praise between coaches and wrestler goes both ways.
“These coaches are awesome,” Anderson said. “Keller is like my Iowa father. For advice, those two guys know everything.”
Anderson’s goal all along, even when he wasn’t wrestling, was to be a national champion.
“I’ve never been interested in just being an All-American or being considered all this good stuff that I want to be,” Anderson said. “I want that target on me and that target’s not gonna be on you if you’re not on the mat.”
The bus washing is in his past now. Anderson is on the mat and the target will be on his back at the national championships in Cedar Rapids.
“He’s a guy that’s smart enough, he’s not gonna waste his opportunity,” Keller said. “He’s got a second chance at it, he’s gonna make the most of it. That’s exactly what he’s done up to this point.”
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