INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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AMES — Life was simple for Mike Zadick.
His Montana cabin was the perfect reprieve from wrestling, a sport that had consumed his life since childhood. A falling out with Iowa Coach Tom Brands in 2012 over philosophy differences left him wanting something else.
A move to his home state along the Rocky Mountains was the perfect chance to return to his roots.
“I just kind of deflated and took in the change of life and got right into hunting,” said Zadick, now the associate head coach at Iowa State. “I literally hunted for 67 days straight.”
Roughly 20 miles down a gravel road from the nearest town — a place with just 300 residents — gave him solitude. Zadick’s closest neighbors — four families who owned ranches — were all at least three miles away.
It was perfect.
Fishing and carpentry joined hunting in Zadick’s trifecta of interests. He even guided wilderness hunts, taking groups 20 miles into the wild on horseback on seven-day excursions.
At home, Zadick didn’t have much. He had no closet, so he made a cabinet out of barn wood he found. He had a bed, but built another one. Zadick also found an old axel from agricultural equipment that he turned into a curl bar for weight-lifting.
Even with all of his other interests, Zadick still dipped his toe into the wrestling world. He was a volunteer coach at Choteau High School, helping a team of 12 wrestlers win a state championship in 2015. That spark he had lost for the sport was reignited.
“It really got me excited about wrestling again, that little bit,” Zadick said.
About a month later, then-Virginia Tech coach Kevin Dresser reached out to Zadick through Facebook about joining the Hokies staff. Zadick had some reservations, but Dresser’s pursuit of the three-time All-American for the Hawkeyes was relentless.
“I chased Mike Zadick out of the mountains literally,” Dresser said. “Literally two years ago. It was a hard sale, but I got him to Virginia Tech. I got him on my side and I’ve got to tell you he brings a lot of energy, he brings a lot of love.”
Zadick dropped everything in Montana, including his most recent project — building a sauna. It has walls and a roof, but remains largely unfinished.
In his two years at Virginia Tech, the Hokies went 34-3 in duals with 11 All-Americans. When Dresser departed to coach the Cyclones, Zadick helped Virginia Tech to a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
After the season, Dresser’s sell to get Zadick to Ames wasn’t as difficult as it was to get him to Blacksburg two years ago. It was a chance for the former Iowa standout to return to the state where he spent his formative years.
This new challenge at Iowa State means that sauna back in the mountains of Montana is going to have to wait a little longer to be finished.
“When (Dresser) says he’s going to do something for you he does it,” Zadick said. “Coming here, it was kind of that same thing. The difference here, this is a whole other world of wrestling. Wrestling is very, very, very important in the state of Iowa.”
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