Iowa Hawkeyes

Nelson Brands has an Iowa wrestling name, but he 'is his own man'

'He was raised to be a champion in life and he chose wrestling'

Iowa's Nelson Brands (left) wrestles ISU's Joel Shapiro (right) in their 197-pound match at a wrestling dual between the
Iowa's Nelson Brands (left) wrestles ISU's Joel Shapiro (right) in their 197-pound match at a wrestling dual between the Iowa Hawkeys and Iowa State Cyclones at the Hilton Coliseum in Ames on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Brands won the match. Iowa won the team dual. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Nelson Brands wasn’t groomed to be a wrestler.

Even though he seemed predestined for the mat with potential pumping through his veins, he had to discover the passion for it naturally before following in the footsteps of his NCAA and World champion father and uncle, Terry and Tom Brands.

“Terry was hands off,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said of his brother and the Hawkeyes’ associate head coach. “That surprises people, but it doesn’t surprise me.

“We want individuals in our program and Nelson is his own man. He was raised like you raise your kids. He wasn’t raised to be a champion on the mat. He was raised to be a champion in life and he chose wrestling.”

Nelson has carved his own niche in the sport and for the top-ranked Hawkeyes. He has stepped in the 184-pound starting spot this season, ascending to sixth in the national rankings entering Sunday’s dual against No. 9 Illinois at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (11 a.m., BTN).

“I truly believe there is no better place that I could be than Carver-Hawkeye Arena with Tom and Terry,” Nelson said. “I say Tom and Terry instead of my dad and uncle because when I’m in Carver-Hawkeye Arena I refer to them as Tom and Terry. As soon as I leave here, I’m back to Dad and Tom.

“I definitely enjoy wrestling here.”

Nelson didn’t compete in his first tournament until sixth grade, loading into the family SUV and traveling to Williamsburg with Terry. He may have started later than most on his level but Tom Brands noticed the makings of a wrestler.

Like the time he watched Nelson react to getting hit in the face, which caused a heavy bloody nose.

“He got thumped pretty good, but I just remember him, he was sitting out away hanging his nose away from his chest so it wouldn’t bleed on his leg or chest or whatever,” Tom said. “He was kind of laughing or giggling. I saw it. He got hit hard. He was just kind of laughing, like how do I stop the bleeding?

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“That is a pretty good sign that you’ve got somebody that can deal with a little owie or a little bit of discomfort or pain.”

Hall of Fame Coach Mark Reiland coached Nelson at Iowa City West and was a teammate of Tom and Terry. He noted that the younger Brands is not a carbon copy of the other two.

“He’s a completely different animal than his dad and uncle,” Reiland told The Gazette before coaching him to the second of three state titles with the Trojans. “He’s got a lot more jokes and relaxation to him than they did. There are a lot of different ways to skin a cat, as Terry would say.”

Nelson acknowledges he doesn’t have the same temperament. He said he is more “chill” with wrestling and in life. He certainly has some of the intense components, including the family’s famous competitive streak.

“I want to be first,” Nelson said. “I want to be first in pretty much everything that I do.

“I’ve had instances in my life growing up where I tried to get to the first in the line in third grade and I got in trouble for that. Things like that are definitely similar to Tom and Terry.”

Nelson is much bigger than his dad, who was a two-time NCAA champion and three-time national finalist at 126 for Iowa, a two-time World champion at 125 1/2 pounds and was a 2000 Olympic bronze medalist at 127 3/4.

Nelson started his high school career at 126, growing to 138, 152 and 160 by the time he graduated. He recalled the time he wrestled a full-length match with Terry, who won 11-8. Nelson said he’d have a better outcome now, if he would accept when his dad jokingly offers a rematch.

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“It was not fun,” Nelson said. “I don’t think it would be very fun for him if we wrestled right now, which I’m sure we won’t but if wants to, when he doesn’t really care about his lower back, we might go.”

Being a Brands has probably made him a marked man in wrestling circles. Nelson probably had a target affixed to his back by people that would consider that a marquee victory in name alone. He has taken it in stride.

“I think that he’s put that in perspective since day one,” Tom said. “I think that was something the way you’re raised you deal with that.”

Nelson was a raw talent out of high school. He was a takedown dynamo, making big gains in dominance each season and becoming the first four-time recipient of the Mississippi Valley Conference Super Meet Outstanding Wrestler award.

He has shown the same pattern of development at Iowa. He was 18-0 as a redshirt and then 9-4 as a part-time starter last season as a small 184-pounder. Nelson seems to have grown into the weight and provided glimpses of his wrestling genes, beating Nebraska’s No. 7 Taylor Venz by major decision and hitting double-digits in a victory at Minnesota.

“I feel like I’m more stingy,” Nelson said. “I think I wrestle positons through to the full extent of the position. I enjoy it.”

Tom said Nelson can be as good as he wants to be and that he has improved, imposing his will on opponents to turn matches into his favor.

“When those things happen and they start to become a habit, then the gap is going to widen on the score,” Tom said. “That’s what you’re seeing, because when the gap widens on the score you’re starting to become more dominant and a dominant mentality and dominant wrestler wins tough matches and the tight matches.”

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Tom added, “He’s a good kid. He’s popular with his teammates. Funny guy and getting better and that’s the main thing. We just have to keep getting better.”

Brands (2-0) is expected to face No. 11 Zach Braunagel (2-2) Sunday. The two met last year at the Midlands Championships with Braunagel winning, 3-2. The match promises a style that Brands prefers.

“They’re bashy guys,” Nelson said. “They’re going to come at you and head-butt you and swing arms and I like that. I like that feeling. I like getting hit a few times. I’m going to have to be super stingy with him and frustrate him to get him out of his positions to get to mine.”

Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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