Two-time NCAA wrestling national champion Brent Metcalf learned his trade from the biggest names in the sport, but a cartoon Martian printed on a piece of garbage gave him his start.
“I was walking out of school one day and there was a flier on the ground,” Metcalf recalls. “It had a Martian, our school mascot, in a singlet. To me, that was the coolest picture I had ever seen. Our school mascot was looking all strong and muscular. I had no idea what the sport was, but I loved the picture, so I got involved.”
Metcalf, a University of Iowa senior, won his second NCAA individual championship at 149 pounds March 20 in Omaha, Neb. A three-time All-American and NCAA finalist, Metcalf finished with a career record of 108–3 with more than 42 percent of those victories coming by fall.
“He was dominant in all phases of his life,” UI head coach Tom Brands says. “He controlled the outside influences and knocked those down—and he certainly knocked a lot of opponents down.”
Metcalf grew up in Goodrich, Mich., where his first love was BMX bike racing. He started wrestling when he was 8 and was groomed in the youth programs in Goodrich. Right before Metcalf entered high school, the head wrestling coach at Goodrich retired, so the Metcalfs moved to nearby Davison, where Brent competed for former Goodrich assistant Roy Hall. Metcalf was 228–0 with 156 falls in high school.
When Brands, then head coach at Virginia Tech, offered a scholarship, Metcalf followed.
“As soon as he called me, I was going there,” Metcalf says. “I grew up with Tom and Terry Brands being my gods in wrestling. Their word is like the Bible in the wrestling world, so to have the opportunity to be coached by them is amazing.”
The University of Iowa hired Brands prior to the 2006–07 season and Metcalf transferred, even though the NCAA forced him to forfeit a year of eligibility. He never regretted the decision.
“This has been more than I could have ever expected my college experience to be,” Metcalf says. “Looking back, I’m so glad I got the opportunity to be here. I’m really glad I got to be part of this program and all that comes with it: the fans, the expectations, the history, the media—and the excitement.”
Metcalf will graduate in May with a degree in sociology and a minor in health and sport studies. He is engaged to Kristen Knipper; they plan to marry in October. Metcalf wants to continue to train in the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex, at least through the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.
“I know that I would like to be a college wrestling coach one day and that would involve getting coaching experience,” Metcalf says. “We’ll see where that goes. Right now I just want to worry about enjoying some downtime and getting on with the next phase, which is the next world championships.”
Metcalf has been competitive from an early age. He also participated in football (running back and defensive back), pole vault, diving, gymnastics, soccer, and skateboarding.
“We were young boys,” Metcalf says, referring to himself and his older brother, Chase. “Our parents wanted to keep us active; we loved playing sports.”
After the 2002 high school wrestling season—when Brent and Chase both won state championships—the brothers celebrated by getting a tattoo between the shoulder blades inscribed with the words Family First.
“If I didn’t cry I came pretty darn close,” Metcalf says. “It was just torture, but at the time it was binding with my older brother and I wanted to make him happy.”
The tears would come later: Chase Metcalf died in a car accident on Sept. 8, 2005.
“(The tattoo) means more now than it did then—it’s a memory thing,” Metcalf says. “The relationship my brother and I had was pretty strong, especially in the sport of wrestling, because that’s where we were the closest.”
Since first setting foot in Iowa City, Metcalf has been the poster child for a dominant Hawkeye wrestling program that, during his tenure, compiled a 68–1 dual record (24–0 in the Big Ten Conference) and won three consecutive NCAA, Big Ten, Midlands, and national dual championships.
“When you’re a winner, people gravitate toward you,” Brands says. “He was a natural pick for team captain because of the way that he marches—people follow him. He is the face of the program. Sometimes as a student athlete, you don’t get the luxury to choose whether you are or you aren’t. Winners create followers, and that’s what he’s done.”
Intense on the mat, Metcalf says off the mat he is a “goofy, laid-back guy” who enjoys hunting, watching movies, and cooking. It’s unlikely that Metcalf’s cooking prowess will overshadow his standing as a Hawkeye wrestling icon.
“To me, it’s more important to be remembered by the way I represented our program and myself on the wrestling mat,” Metcalf says. “That’s an aggressive style, the old Iowa wrestling style: kicking butt, taking names, and walking out.”
story by Darren Miller; photo by Tim Schoon