IOWA CITY – University of Iowa fans know Mike Evans.
In an indirect way, that is by his design. Winning draws attention and success is the biggest motivation to the Hawkeyes’ 174-pound All-American.
“It’s no fun to be at the bottom of the pile,” said Evans, a two-time national qualifier and two-time Big Ten tournament finalist. “You wouldn’t know me if I was at the bottom of the pile, would you?”
Evans will return to the site of what could be considered a breakout win when he beat Nebraska’s highly ranked Robert Kokesh for the first time two years ago. He has a chance to improve his 3-1 mark against the Cornhusker when No. 3 Iowa (10-1, 3-0 Big Ten) faces No. 8 Nebraska (8-0, 2-0) on Saturday at the Devaney Center in Lincoln, Neb.
Both were ranked freshmen when Evans handed Kokesh a 7-3 loss, triggering a burst of emotion from Evans after the match.
“I don’t know if he was really tested at the time, so I think he was in the same boat as me,” Evans said. “You get a taste for success against a good opponent, a quality opponent. It drives you a little bit.”
The drive for success was instilled in Evans early by his father, Richard, especially with the introduction of wrestling. The lesson started when they began rolling around together on the carpet, continuing to when he took the mat and extending to all aspects of life.
“I think that snowballs,” Evans said. “It gets built into you at a young age. You don’t know anything besides to compete.”
Evans said he appreciates his father’s influence throughout the years, describing him as a white-collar guy with a blue-collar attitude. He has made a key impact on his life.
“I definitely see his work ethic from a day-to-day basis when I’m around him and I pick up on that,” Evans said. “I wouldn’t be here without him.”
The tough mentality shows in his wrestling. It was one of the aspects that made him an attractive prep recruit. Iowa Coach Tom Brands said he witnessed Evans’ intensity while manhandle a teammate during a high school practice.
“I remember him in a workout at Blair Academy (N.J.) and he just about tore a guy’s arm off and handed it back to him,” Brands said. “There are situations when you get good and then you get really good. He got to be really good.”
The transition to college life came with growing pains. The early road was a little bumpy, but he is more “plugged in” to the team, according to Brands. Evans has matured and represents the Hawkeyes well.
“He’s made a lot of progress since his freshman year and he’s continuing to make progress,” Brands said. “We love him.”
Evans has made strides with his confidence, getting stronger in the neutral position and being more patient. He has focused on controlling his temper, which has flared in competition. Losing your temper and being tough are not related.
“When you lose your temper things start to loosen up against you,” Evans said. “That’s going away from being tough. When you keep everything nailed down you’re just a solid rock.
“You might slip up, but as long as you stay solid and keep your temper under control you just get tougher and tougher.”
Brands has been able to channel that fire, including the win over Kokesh in Nebraska in 2012. He was ignited by a personal challenge the week leading up to the bout by Brands.
“He came off the mat and said, ‘What do you think about that?’ So, carry that chip (on the shoulder),” Brands said. “He came off the mat and he gave it to me a little bit. I don’t care. Give it to me.”
A lot more work still needs to be made. Brands would like to see more consistency on the mat. Brands said Evans has been sidetracked by minor things on occasion, and will need to overcome that to become a legit contender.
“He’s one of those guys he can get frustrated sometimes and he just has to focus in the now,” Brands said. “When he focuses in the now, he’s pretty dang good and he’s gotten better.”
Evans (18-2) and Kokesh (23-1) are one of the top matches in Saturday’s dual, which could feature 16 ranked wrestlers. Many eyes will be on top-ranked 157-pounder Derek St. John against Nebraska’s No. 3 James Green, and Brody Grothus, one of the Hawkeyes hottest competitors at the moment, versus Jake Sueflohn, ranked as high as fifth at 149.
Brands said Evans will need to keep working, especially on being offensive to score more points. Evans has scored seven or more in three wins, but only managed two in a loss in the consolation semifinals of the 2013 NCAA Championships.“One of the things that make me successful is that I know every match is going to be different,” Evans said. “I still go out and wrestle every match. I really don’t worry about previous scores. It’s a new match.”