IOWA CITY – Derek St. John has produced memorable postseason moments for the University of Iowa.
His earliest recollections of the national tournament were simpler and involved former Hawkeyes and his father, Trent.
“My first memory was sitting at home, listening to it on the radio with my dad,” St. John said. “It was Cliff Moore and that era, pretty much.”
Ten years later, the 23-year-old will make one last run at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Okla., beginning Thursday at 11 a.m. Defending national champion and second-seeded St. John opens with Lehigh’s Joe Napoli in the first round of the 157-pound bracket.
While hanging on every word of the radio announcer, the junior-high wrestler aspired to be in Moore's position. He may not have pictured it that way exactly, but he has matched and surpassed those Hawkeyes achievements.
“I never thought about it like that, but always strived for it,” St. John said. “I never really saw myself in that spot. I wanted it.”
As a red-shirt freshman, St. John qualified for the national tournament, placing fourth. He joined the long list of Iowa All-Americans.
“It was awesome,” St. John said about his first NCAA experience. “I didn’t think about the past too much, but I was getting ready for the present.”
Currently, St. John’s wrestling career has come full circle from the days he first watched the NCAA tournament on television, including a runner-up finish of Ryan Fulsaas. Young wrestlers now look up to St. John, who has worked clinics at Iowa City West. Youth wrestlers will be updating websites and watching television or online video of St. John competing, like he did via the radio years ago.
“There are kids that look up to you and one day will be in your spot,” said St. John, a two-time state champ and four-time medalist for the Trojans. “It’s a pretty big deal.”
St. John has made an impact from when he stepped in the practice room. He wasted little time battling two-time NCAA champion and three-time finalist Brent Metcalf. His competitive nature and fire is strong, despite his constantly controlled demeanor. Throughout his prep and college career, he has approached the tussles in practice as a national championship bout.
Visualizing those moments in training has helped him reach the actual finals moment the last two seasons.
“You are in a room full of guys who want to tear off your head,” St. John said. “You come ready to go or you’re going to get your behind whomped.”
The tough, hard-nosed St. John has always let his actions do the most talking. The resume speaks for itself. St. John (25-4) has the chance to become Iowa’s 17th two-time national titlist and 18th four-time All-American, finishing as a runner-up in 2012. A second straight title is more important.
“I don’t know how many people have done that in back-to-back years,” St. John said. “It would be a big thing.”
Iowa Coach Tom Brands said this is the time for St. John and all the Hawkeyes to cement their legacy.
“I think every time out is another time to prove himself,” Brands said. “Isn’t that life? Isn’t that competition? It is certainly wrestling and when you have the competitive makeup of these guys it holds true.”
Iowa 165-pounder Nick Moore has known St. John since before they became teammates at West. They have won state titles together and now the longtime friends have a final shot to earn All-America status together.
“If that’s something you need to get yourself up for a match then that’s something you go to,” Moore said. “You realize this is our last chance to do it together. I think it can be incredibly motivating.”
St. John has plans to train with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club in the future. He has one more bracket to try and conquer. He has not bother to see the draw outside of his pairing with Napoli.
“The first round match is a pretty big one,” St. John said. “Other than that I don’t really know.
“It doesn’t matter. You have to win five matches to win the title anyway.”One more run with more memories.