By Rob Gray
AMES — Sometimes, a pre-teen Kyven Gadson would simply gaze at it.
The object of his awe — his dad, Willie’s, adored Iowa State wrestling robe — hung in a closet in the family’s Waterloo home.
The robe symbolized his father’s power.
Enduring love, too.
“I might have snuck it on once,” said Kyven Gadson, the Cyclones’ No. 1-ranked 197-pounder, who enters today’s Big 12 Championships in Norman, Okla., intent on earning a conference title as a first step in a potentially monumental March.
Willie Gadson died of cancer last March, fighting until the end.
Kyven was able to bring his 2013 Big 12 championship medal to his hospital bedside, shortly before he passed away.
Now the younger Gadson’s locked in for domination en route to a second straight trip to the top of the podium.
Like father, like son?
Willie was a two-time Big Eight champ, as well as a two-time all-American.
Kyven, a junior, is on the same gilded path — and could join his dad as the only father-son duo in program history to win two conference crowns each.
“I think he’s a winner,” said ISU Coach Kevin Jackson, a two-time world champion and longtime friend of Willie Gadson. “I think he makes a decision on how he’s going to win the match and if he’s not aggressive, it might be a close match. If he is aggressive, he can dominate matches. So we’re looking for him to dominate (this weekend).”
Jackson’s team earned second at last year’s Big 12 Championships.
ISU 165-pounder, Mike Moreno, joined Gadson as a 2013 all-American and said the Cyclones could qualify as many as nine wrestlers for the NCAAs, with a caveat.
“If we can all come out and perform to our abilities, we can definitely do that,” said Moreno, who’s 25-6 this season and ranked ninth at his weight by Intermat. “Why not? But we have to go out and perform to our abilities.”
Jackson likes what he’s seen from Gadson, Moreno and others, including rising 125-pounder Earl Hall and 12th-ranked 174-pounder Tanner Weatherman — an NCAA qualifier last season.
“They understand that everything is practice to this point,” Jackson said.
That’s certainly Gadson’s mentality as he seeks to repeat as a conference champion and improve on his sixth-place finish at nationals.
He’s 23-2, with the only setbacks coming to Scott Schiller of Minnesota — narrow decisions he avenged with a 6-4 win at the NWCA National Duals.
Schiller also ended Gadson’s run at the 2013 NCAA Championships.
“For me to get that and finally figure our how to close out the seven minutes with myself on top was nice,” said Gadson, who paid tribute to his dad at nationals last season by donning his robe. “I just have to keep building on that. It’s a little bit of a confidence booster but at the same time it doesn’t matter if I won that match if I don’t follow it up with a Big 12 championships and an NCAA title.”
That last step, getting to the national title bout, would be the only achievement powerful enough to coax dad’s robe out of its protective sheath of plastic again.
It now hangs in Kyven’s closet in Ames — ready to wear, when the timing’s right.“Definitely have to get to the final, if that gets pulled out,” Gadson said.