By Michael DeBates
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The man with the million-dollar smile on campus is Iowa State All-American wrestler Kyven Gadson. He defied the odds last season, earning a Big 12 individual title and All-America honors at the NCAA Championships in Des Moines just a week after losing his father, Willie, to cancer.
But Gadson wants more, and he wants to be at the top of the podium in March at Chesapeake Bay Arena in Oklahoma City.
“If I’m healthy and my mind is in the right place, I know I’m going to be fine,” Gadson said. “I don’t put pressure on myself to do something I’ve been doing my whole life. I set my goals a long time ago and the satisfaction of knowing I achieved those goals is the biggest thing for me.”
Highly-touted out of high school, Gadson was slotted as the No. 6 189-pounder in the country by Amateur Wrestling News. The early goings of his career where hampered by injuries. From the end of his senior year of high school to the end of his second collegiate season, Gadson had three surgies on his shoulders, two on the left and one the right.
Not only did the injuries dwindle his time on the mat in a Cyclone singlet, but they also limited Gadson’s offseason training regiment as well.
This offseason, Gadson was able to able to train hard and not be setback by injuries for the first team in his career at Iowa State. He believes his summer work in the room was extremely crucial to his success this season.
“Despite not wrestling in any competitions, I was able to get on the mat, drill and go hard in the weight room doing the things I have always been used to doing,” Gadson said. “The past offseason has been a major confidence booster for me, knowing that I’ve been able to put on that extra layer from both a skills and strength standpoint.”
To Gadson, wrestling is a science and he’s trying to perfect it.
“Wrestling is a craft that you want to keep getting better at,” he said. “I know if I get better at it, I will hit that peak of becoming an NCAA champion when I’m at my best.”
Honing his skills on the mat to be the best wrestler in the nation is important to Gadson, but so too is developing himself into the best leader he can be for the Iowa State wrestling program.
“If you ask me a question, I’ll give you an answer and the guys all know they can come to me with anything,” he said. “Even the leaders need guys to get on them, so having a guy like Michael Moreno who experienced the same success I had last season in the room is important for me. I know if I’m ever having a bad practice, he’ll get on me.”
2011 NCAA champion Jon Reader and Andrew Sorenson, who finished his career 93-31, both played crucial roles in Gadson’s development leadership wise for when it was his time to grab the reins of the team.
“I looked up to both a great deal,” Gadson said. “Sorenson was more the talkative leader and Jon was more laid back, leading by example. You knew Jon was going to handle his business and if you wanted to get on that same train with him, there was an open seat for you.”
It’s rare to find someone with the character level Gadson possesses. After sitting down and talking with him, his high character level shines. In a uniquely individual sport like collegiate wrestling, team success sometimes is not all that important to student-athletes.
To Gadson it is.
“We’re not there yet, but the potential is there for this team to compete at the NCAA Championships in March,” he said. “I came here to win an NCAA team title, as well as individual ones. If you have to put this scenario in play, I would rather win a team title over an individual one. You have the satisfaction of knowing that everyone collectively came together for something far bigger than yourself. That’s special.”
Gadson is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation at 197 pounds by InterMat. He is 9-1 overall this season and 6-0 dual competition. He has won 21-staright matches in duals dating back to Nov. 25 last season. His only loss on the year came in the championship match of the Harold Nichols Cyclone Open on Nov. 16, as he fell 3-2 to No. 1 Scott Schiller of Minnesota.
Iowa State (6-1 overall, 1-0 Big 12) travels south to compete at the Southern Scuffle for the first time in school history on Jan. 1-2. Gadson will have the opportunity to showcase his skills in a tough 197-pound bracket, featuring four wrestlers ranked in the top-10.