Austin DeSanto’s high-octane offense and relentless approach captured the attention of college wrestling last season.
As a true freshmen for Drexel, he was the 133-pound dynamo that compiled 29 victories and 11 technical falls, including some within the first period.
The seventh seed at the NCAA Championships also gained notice for the way he finished, frustratingly ripping at the arm of Michigan’s Stevan Micic in a national quarterfinal loss and a lackluster overtime consolation loss.
So, when word circulated of his desire to transfer, it led many to consider Iowa with coaches Tom and Terry Brands the best fit to develop and channel that intensity.
“He brings an energy and a competitiveness that is contagious,” Hawkeyes head coach Tom Brands said during Monday’s annual media day. “There’s a lot out there about, maybe there’s only one program for him, that’s this program. There’s one coach for him, that’s this coach.
“The way that he competes, sometimes he takes it overboard a little bit. We have to temper that. At the same time, we’re going to temper that without taking anything away from him edge-wise. We want him to have that edge. We want him to have that competitive fire. I think he’s going to be a fan favorite right away. His reputation precedes him. That’s a good thing.”
DeSanto transferred to Iowa, forming a possible mutually beneficial marriage of another energetic and high-powered point scorer and a team that wasn’t represented at that weight at the national tournament last season. He could see his first match in black-and-gold when the third-ranked Hawkeyes wrestle Cal State-Bakersfield and host Kent State at Kent, Ohio, on Friday, beginning at 4:30 p.m.
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The former state champion from Exeter, Pa., felt welcome from his first day in the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex.
“Everybody’s real good people here,” DeSanto said. “It’s an awesome experience just living here.”
DeSanto was one of two highly-touted lower-weight transfers to Iowa, including former Nebraska 133-pounder Jason Renteria. They joined a practice room that includes NCAA 125-pound champion Spencer Lee, the 141-pound trio of Max Murin, Vince Turk and Carter Happel and last year’s 133-pound starter Paul Glynn.
What made Iowa the right place this time as opposed to his recruiting period?
“Just the focus,” DeSanto said. “I can be really focused here. No distractions.
“And, I think everybody on the team has the same mindset as me.”
DeSanto and Lee have a well-documented history. DeSanto was the only wrestler to beat Lee as a prep, topping him in the state finals their senior season. The pair complement each other and can generate some lightweight fireworks for the Hawkeyes.
“He brings a lot of energy, a lot of fire,” Lee said. “If you’re working as hard as Austin DeSanto then you’re working pretty dang hard.
“He’s been a lot of fun. A lot of good memories going on right now. We’re going to build a lot more the next three years. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Tom Brands said his brother, Terry, was interested in DeSanto when he beat Lee. He was already locked in to Drexel. They were interested when he looked for a new home, despite how others labeled him for his actions at the end of the year.
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“You’re putting a tag on him. I’m not,” Tom Brands said. “The balance is there. He wants to win badly. That’s OK.”
DeSanto has already realized his gains in the room. His biggest stride hasn’t been technical or physical.
“I’ve gotten a lot mentally stronger here. It’s awesome. Just the mental side of things and teach me the ways to be a man, basically.”
DeSanto is motivated by Lee’s national title. He wants to match his competitor-turned-teammate.
“The same thing that he did last year,” DeSanto said about his goal. “That should be everybody’s goal, right?”
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