At this time last year, Joe Colon sought the peace of sand and sun instead of the excitement of college wrestling’s most important event.
The sting of his removal from the University of Northern Iowa wrestling team was too strong, forcing him to choose vacation at Panama City Beach, Fla., over the national tournament two hours away in Des Moines.
“I just didn’t want to watch it,” said Colon, a 2012 national qualifier who reached the round of 12 at 133 pounds. “I knew I should have been there. It was disappointing to me. I just wanted to get away.”
Colon addressed off-the-mat issues and earned his way back on the Panthers team this year and the top seed at 133 pounds of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Okla., beginning Thursday at 11 a.m.
UNI Coach Doug Schwab exhibited a little tough love toward Colon, who missed a year of eligibility and the sport he has loved since his youth. The lesson was learned.
“Hurt and pain area huge motivator,” Schwab said. “It changes people. It makes you analyze and change and he did it.”
The Panthers senior was a 2010 NJCAA national champion as a freshman at Iowa Central. He was a win away from being an All-American two years ago for UNI. He settled for tournament updates on his phone and computer a year ago. He is grateful for another chance, realizing some never get a second one.
“I had the opportunity to get it back,” Colon said. “I’m going to do everything I can to everything I’ve wanted to my whole life and that’s (win) a national title.
“I’m excited and ready to go. I’m five matches away. You take one at a time and do what I can do.”
Colon, one of seven UNI qualifiers which is the most in Schwab’s four years as head coach, has put it all on the line this season. He owns a 30-1 record, including a 20-match win streak, entering his first-round match against Rutgers’ Vincent Dellafave (13-10). He is unfazed by the top-ranked target fixed on his back.
“It’s not the first tournament I’ve been going into as the No. 1,” Colon said. “Everybody is 0-0 going into the national tournament. Anybody can win it. You can’t overlook anybody, even if you’ve beat them before.”
Some wrestlers crumble of the pressure of that top distinction. Colon has embraced it, according to Schwab. He doesn’t expect anything different than a dominant and offensive Colon.
“When you see him walk out there and wrestle that’s how he’s wrestling,” Schwab said. “He’s wrestling like ‘I’m the man and you’re going to have to come take it from me.’ “
Colon’s performance at the Midlands Championships propelled him to the top of the weight class, dropping three top-ranked opponents on his way to the title. He beat Wisconsin’s Tyler Graff, Edinboro’s A.J. Schopp and then pinned Iowa’s Tony Ramos in the finals. Graff is seeded fifth at the NCAA tournament, while Schopp is second and Ramos third. Those wins only serve as a confidence boost and won’t matter Thursday.
“I’ve wrestled them once already,” Colon said. “It’s going to be different the next time you wrestle them. They might change something up. I might change something. You don’t know what is going to happen. You have to be ready to wrestle for seven minutes and not give up any easy points.”
Colon has made a strong comeback, returning to wrestling. Schwab said Colon has produced an incredible season, but needs to wrestle to his potential and graduate this spring for an appropriate ending.“Then that story is complete and he’ll move on from there,” Schwab said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of him and how he’s grown as a person. He has to continue to do that.”