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College wrestling's most coveted award requires specific characteristics.
The Dan Hodge Trophy, what has been referred as the sport's Heisman, demands success, dominance, citizenship, sportsmanship and heart. According to Iowa Coach Tom Brands, all of those attributes are encompassed in a 125-pound case.
'All the things you can talk about goodness in people he embodies that and as a competitor,' Brands said. 'It's OK that you're a ferocious competitor. It's OK but when you step off the mat you have to handle yourself a certain way. He does that.
'It's heart and all these criteria but you know what, roll them all up into a little ball, put a name on that ball, it's Spencer Lee. Whatever he's about that's what this award represents.'
Lee and Minnesota heavyweight Gable Steveson were announced as co-winners of the annual Hodge trophy, which is awarded to the nation's top college wrestler by Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine (WIN) Magazine. Lee was the sole winner last year. The only previous time the award had multiple recipients was in 2001 when Iowa State's Cael Sanderson and Simpson's Nick Ackerman were honored together.
'I was pretty excited,' Lee said. 'It's an honor to win this award and win it a second time. I'm pleased, happy and honored to have won it with someone like Gable Steveson, so pretty cool.'
Lee remains the third Hawkeye to win the award, along with Brent Metcalf and Mark Ironside. Lee also becomes the fifth NCAA wrestler to win more than once, joining Sanderson, Missouri's Ben Askren and Penn State's Zain Retherford and David Taylor.
'Two-time Hodge Trophy winner. That is awesome for our program,' Brands said. 'We're excited. I'm excited.
'This one was firmly in his grasp.'
Lee won his third NCAA title this season, finishing 12-0 and outscoring his opponents, 141-15, with a 91.6-percent rate of bonus victories. He outscored his NCAA tournament foes, 59-8, including a 7-0 decision over Arizona State's Brandon Courtney in the finals.
Lee has won his last 35 matches, owning a 432-42 scoring edge during that stretch.
He continued his dominance after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during the Big Ten Championships.
'I was just doing my best to win an NCAA title for my team,' Lee said. 'I know my team needed me for us to bring a title home. So, that was my main priority.
'I wasn't really thinking about bonus every match or pinning or teching everyone. I was focused on scoring the next point and getting through the matches healthy and finish the tournament for my teammates and myself. I ended up winning the Hodge.
"I wasn't thinking about it, really, but I did what I could. I'm just happy to have done what I did and I'm honored to have won.'
The Hodge Committee is made up of past winners, retired college coaches and select national wrestling media. Lee won the fan voting, 25,712 to 5,202, but many members of the committee voted for co-winners.
'We have had fairly tight races before but nothing like this year,' said Mike Chapman, creator of the award back in 1995. 'It's an amazing year in so many respects. When you look at what COVID did, cutting the season at least in half and causing such chaos, it was a very difficult season for everyone.'
Lee and Steveson, who is named after legendary Hawkeyes coach Dan Gable, have reached the summit of college wrestling. They have a mutual respect despite being extremely different sizes and strengths. They know the commitment, effort and work ethic to reach this point.
'I think we both understand what we're doing, how we do it, it's something we've earned ourselves and how hard it was and what we have gone through to be where we're at,' Lee said. 'He's an incredible athlete, an incredible person. I wish him luck in the future in all his future endeavors. He's super successful in anything he does, whether he fights, plays football or goes WWE. Who knows what that guy can do? Sky is the limit for that guy.
'I'm honored to have known him and have the relationship that I have with him. I wish him luck. I think he's going to be an Olympic gold medalist this summer and you guys can quote me on that.'
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