Top recruit David Carr could have gone to other schools, but his family’s legacy at ISU and the chance to build something bigger than himself led him to Ames.
Brian Powers, firstname.lastname@example.org
AMES, Ia. — Thirty-four days before the Junior men’s freestyle world championships, David Carr sits on his bed, reading his Bible. It’s a Wednesday morning in July. He’s wearing a gray USA Wrestling hoodie. Music plays softly on his phone — “I just need U.” by TobyMac.
When he finishes, he grabs a notebook and starts writing.
JR World Champ David Carr
JR World Champ David Carr
JR World Champ David Carr
JR World Champ David Carr
JR World Champ David Carr
“When I write things down,” he says, “I picture myself doing them.”
His notebook reads more like a completed checklist than a catalog of aspirations. In the sixth grade, he wrote that he wanted to win four high school state titles. He won five — one as an eighth-grader in Kentucky, then four in Ohio. As a high school sophomore, he wanted to make the Cadet freestyle world team. Did that, too, then went 3-1 and won a bronze medal.
The sun shines through the window in his room. An illustration of his father, Nate, a Cyclone wrestling legend, is on the floor. A poster depicting the biblical story of David beating Goliath hangs on the wall. The words “Junior World Champ” are everywhere — on a whiteboard by his door, on another on his windowsill, on an index card taped to his bathroom mirror.
“Sometimes,” the 20-year-old says, looking in the mirror, “I’ll be here by myself, and I’ll just raise my hand, and I’ll think about how it might feel to win nationals or worlds.”
He has kept this a secret from most people, mostly because, he says, it’s a little weird. But after Junior worlds, which runs Aug. 12-18 in Estonia, “Junior World Champ” will be replaced with “NCAA Champ.” Carr will be a redshirt freshman for Iowa State in 2019-20. He will become the face of the Cyclones’ continuing ascent, an immediate national title contender at 157 pounds.
Other words are posted throughout his room. Discipline. Consistency. Mental toughness. This tactic helped him become the No. 5 overall 2018 recruit, pushed him to make this year’s Junior world team at 74 kilograms (163 pounds), and why many envision a bright future for the Iowa State wrestling program. They are reminders. They are littered throughout his notebook, too.
Wrestle a high pace. Attack. Fakes and level changes. Lots of shots. If caught, drag out. Score, score, score.
I am a champion. I am a leader. I am a Christian. I am strong. I am confident.
I am David Carr.
‘It wouldn’t just be for me, it’d be for the entire family’
Later that morning, Carr walks into the Harold Nichols Wrestling Room. Iowa State coach Kevin Dresser scheduled a run, so the entire team is sitting on the bleachers inside the front door, waiting to go outside and tackle a mile-and-a-half that loops around Hilton Coliseum.
“It’s scientifically proven that any run over two miles isn’t good for wrestling,” jokes Kyven Gadson, the Cyclones 2015 NCAA Champion who now trains with the Cyclone Regional Training Center.
“It that actually scientifically proven?” Carr asks.
“Ask Jordan Burroughs if he runs two miles,” Gadson continues, smiling. “Ask Kyle Snyder. Ask your dad.”
Behind them, Nate Carr is punishing an innocent elliptical machine. Sweat seeps through his sweatshirt. The room behind him has a large picture of Hilton and a numbers breakdown of Iowa State’s wrestling history — eight NCAA Championships, 69 individual national champions, three Hodge Trophy winners, seven Outstanding Wrestler awards, 15 Olympians, eight Olympic medalists.
The Carr family is well-known in wrestling circles. Nate grew up one of 16 kids — “My dad was a minister, and people say he took Genesis literally,” he jokes. “Be fruitful and multiply” — and all nine boys wrestled. Five became Division I All-Americans. Two wrestled in the Olympics: Nate, in 1988, and Jimmy, who made the 1972 team at 17 years old, the youngest ever.
Nate was the most successful. He won 117 matches and three NCAA titles for Iowa State, then Olympic bronze in Seoul, South Korea. His successes is celebrated here. A sign sits outside the wrestling room displaying the program’s NCAA champs and All-Americans. Nate’s name and the years he won — 1981-83 — are colored gold.
David Carr knows all the stories from his father’s wrestling career.
Nate grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, but nearly went to Iowa. Dan Gable recruited him hard, but his mom, Luella, had a dream and suggested her son go to Iowa State instead. Nate respectfully declined. Then she had the dream again, so Nate came to Ames.
As a freshman, Nate was the No. 4 seed at the NCAA Championships, but lost in the bloodround to Rutgers’ Tony Surage. He walked off the mat and told Iowa State coach Harold Nichols, “You know, I’m winning this next year.” He remembers Nichols smiled and said, “I know.”
On one of David’s recruiting visits to Ames, Nate and wife Linda took a picture by the student union, where they met. During Nate’s senior year, Linda built a prophetic scrapbook titled, “On your way to your third national championship,” full of quotes, pictures and news clippings.
“One writer said, ‘Nate Carr was so awesome last night that he had the audience in one hand, and his opponent in the other,’” Nate Carr says now. “I still have that one.”
Nate never thought he’d return to Ames when he graduated in 1983. He was genuinely surprised when David picked the Cyclones over the likes of Ohio State and Oklahoma State. (Another son, Nate Jr., came to Iowa State after winning a junior national title at Iowa Central in 2007. After a middling three seasons, he jumped into coaching, and is now an assistant at Lock Haven.)
When the 2019-20 season begins, it will mark exactly 40 years since Nate’s freshman season at Iowa State. He and David have been talking, about goals and legacy. There have been four father-son NCAA champion duos in Division I wrestling history. The Cyclones have had two father-son All-American duos in Willie and Kyven Gadson, and Mike and Michael Moreno.
“How cool would it be for your dad to win a national title at Iowa State, and then for you to follow suit, to the same school, and also win a national title?” David Carr says. “It wouldn’t just be for me. It’d be for the entire family.”
David leads the team out for their run. Nate steps off the elliptical and wanders down to the sauna. He’s now an associate director for the Cyclone Regional Training Center. The whole family made the move and will get to watch David from up close. He views his father’s accolades not as something to chase, but as something he wants to surpass.
“That’s the goal.”
‘You’re the hero. Go write your story’
After the run, David Carr walks back into the wrestling room. The Cyclones are hosting a camp this week, and it’s his turn to teach technique. One kid approaches him.
“Did you really win state five times?”
“Yes,” David says.
“They let you wrestle varsity in eighth grade?”
“In Kentucky. Then I moved back to Ohio.”
“That’s awesome,” the kid says.
Growing up the son of an Olympian had perks. David would slip on his dad’s singlet from the ’88 games and look in the mirror — visualization, even then. But for a while, it actually bothered him, if only a little. He was homeschooled through fifth grade, and come middle school, he genuinely believed people hung out with him solely because he was Nate Carr’s kid.
David didn’t start wrestling until fifth grade. He was born in Georgia, and while Nate Jr. won three state titles for Jones County, another older brother, Isaac, taught David to play basketball. He was a pretty good dribbler, Linda says, but when David was 10, they moved to Ohio, where wrestling is far more popular.
All told: David wasn’t very good, at least at first. Linda took him to his first tournament and entered him in the novice division. The organizers saw his name and paired him with more experienced wrestlers. He got pummeled.
“David didn’t even know where to put his ankle band,” Nate says.
Nate became the wrestling director at Prodigy Training Center in Middletown, right between Cincinnati and Dayton. David tagged along and watched him coach guys like Jake Danishek and Dean Heil, both four-time Ohio state champions who found varying levels of success at the Division I level. David thought they were rock stars.
“They were the cool kids on the block,” he remembers. “I saw those guys and figured, if I win a state title, people would have to respect me.
“If I won state, people would refer to me as David Carr instead of Nate Carr’s kid.”
Added Nate: “He saw their swag, how they walked, how they talked, how they trained, and how people revered them. He told himself, you know, ‘I want that.’”
David used that insecurity as motivation. He closed his mouth and opened his eyes and ears, doing everything his dad asked. He wrote down his goals. He wrestled high school kids as a sixth grader. One tournament, David got pinned multiple times by the same move, a headlock. He walked off the mat teary-eyed every time and asked Nate how to defend it.
Don’t worry about it, Nate told him. Stay in your stance and shoot your singles.
But dad, a young David pleaded, how do I defend a headlock?
Don’t worry about it.
The juxtaposition is funny — in order to transition from Nate Carr’s kid to David Carr, he’d have to listen and learn from Nate Carr himself.
“It was important for me to really establish how he thinks,” Nate says now. “I told him one time after he lost in middle school, I said, ‘If you listen to me, if you trust me, the guys that are beating you now, they won’t beat you later.’”
In sixth grade, David went to a wrestling camp with his uncle Joe, who lives in Kentucky. In 1997, his cousin, Joe Jr., became the first eighth-grader to win a Kentucky high school state title. David thought it’d be cool to try it. He brought it up to Nate, who thought the idea was brilliant. He moved in with his uncle. He went 47-1 and won the 2014 state title at 126 pounds.
David moved back to Ohio and resumed his rise. That following fall, he went to the Super 32 Challenge, arguably the toughest preseason tournament in the country. He lost in the bloodround to Pennsylvania prep and No. 1-ranked Cam Coy. David obsessed over it the entire year. Every day before practice, he told his dad, “I’m going to beat Cam Coy.” Nate just smiled. “I know.”
He won 97 matches in his first two true high-school seasons, both ending in state championships. In 2016, he made the Cadet men’s freestyle world team, outscoring his opponents 59-15 in six-straight victories. Competing at 69 kilos (152), he stormed to a bronze medal, part of a second-place team finish for the United States.
“Everything came together,” David says. “People were starting to realize who I was. I wasn’t just a state champ from Ohio. I was the best dude at that weight in the country, and one of the best in the world. That really opened my eyes to a lot of things, when I realized I could be really good.
“I was no longer Nate Carr’s son. I was David Carr.”
All of a sudden, David carried himself with the same charisma that he saw in Heil and Danishek. He was the cool kid on the block. He won a rematch with Coy to become the No. 1 wrestler in the country at 152 pounds. He won his third Ohio state title, then a Junior national title, then a fourth state title. He is just the 31st prep wrestler in state history to do so.
Prior to his final state championship, Nate walked into David’s bedroom and was left speechless. David had taped note cards all over his walls and ceiling and mirrors, all with words and phrases.
I am David Carr.
“He was actually doing what I told him to do,” Nate says. “He became so much more relaxed. Before he goes out to wrestle for his fourth state title, he goes, ‘Dang dad, that’s a really nice suit you’ve got.’ I couldn’t help but laugh.
“My assistant looks at David and goes, ‘You’re the hero. Go write your story.’”
‘It’s like God was screaming, ‘Go to Iowa State’
After practice, David Carr meets with Aden Reeves and Andrew Flora, two Iowa high school wrestlers who came to Iowa State as part of the 2019 recruiting class. They’re joined by Cam Robinson, a Pennsylvania prep who’s verbally committed to Iowa State. He’s the No. 12-ranked 160-pounder in the country, according to Flowrestling, and he’s in town on an unofficial visit.
“Oh, you’re following around the David Carr?” Reeves says.
“Do you know how famous David Carr is?” Flora quips.
Robinson is laughing. David is not.
“Stop it,” David finally says.
David chose Iowa State over Ohio State and Oklahoma State, primarily. He also included Nebraska and Cornell in his final five schools. A decade ago, there likely would’ve been a bloodbath of a recruiting war for his services, but in 2017, it was a small head-scratcher.
When David decided, the Cyclones were in flux, fresh off a 1-12 dual season and just 1 point scored at the NCAA Championships. Kevin Jackson, who coached David at the Cadet world championships, had stepped down. Dresser was hired before March. Meanwhile, Ohio State won a team title in 2015, and Oklahoma State had top-three finishes in 2014, 2016, and 2017.
David hadn’t even visited Iowa State, including them more as a courtesy. He really liked Ohio State, but something about Dresser’s hire piqued his interest because of how he turned Virginia Tech into a consistent trophy contender. He came to Ames, and the staff pitched the idea of him helping bring Iowa State back to national prominence. He liked that.
Then David prayed.
“It was such a hard decision,” he says now. “But I felt an overwhelming presence from him, telling me to go to Iowa State.
“My dad and I listened to a sermon: ’Don’t do what’s convenient. Sometimes God wants you to take the hard path. He doesn’t always want you to do what’s comfortable. ‘Sometimes he needs you out in the battlefield. Sometimes he needs you to do what’s uncomfortable for his glory.’
“When I heard that, it’s like God was screaming ‘Go to Iowa State.’”
Reeves and Flora joke, but they and others in the program view him as a leader, almost instinctively. One day, David led four newly-minted freshmen around campus. They stopped by the wrestling offices, and, like he always does, he gave Robin Wilson, the program’s director of operations, a hug. The other four wrestlers all hugged Robin, too, because they saw David do it.
David has thought about the impact he wants to have. He thinks about Jordan Burroughs, a five-time world and Olympic champion. Burroughs was the United States’ lone world champ in 2011 and 2013. In 2017, the United States won the world team championship for the first time since 1995. Last year, three Americans won world titles.
He thinks about this because people view Burroughs as the leader behind the United States’ resurgence, and he hopes to do something similar at Iowa State. He admits he was worried when he first committed. The Cyclones started 0-4 in duals under Dresser, but are 18-10 since. They went from one NCAA qualifier to two All-Americans in a year. The future is bright.
“When I first came up here, I asked around — you know, ‘How good is Carr?’” Reeves says. “I had heard some things, but everybody always told me, ‘Just watch.’ Now that’s what I tell people. He’s incredible, man. He’ll be up there next year, for sure.”
After talking with Reeves and Flora, David and Robinson hop in a black Ford Escape and drive toward Campustown. They turn onto University Boulevard, navigating the campus buildings. A right onto Lincoln Way brings Hilton Coliseum into view.
Robinson points toward it.
“Are you excited to wrestle there?” he asks.
“Dude,” he says, “I can’t freaking wait.”
‘No gummy bears, better sleep, national title’
The afternoon camp session doesn’t start for another 30 minutes, but David Carr is back inside the wrestling room. Derek St. John walks in. Brent Metcalf, too, and David grabs him. There’s circular poetry about this moment. David used to not like Metcalf. Thought he was too robotic when he wrestled for Iowa. Now he loves him. They’re frequent workout partners.
“How can you not win a national title when all your coaches are national champions?” David says. “They know what they’re talking about. Just listen to them.”
David releases Metcalf and runs to the far end of the wrestling room, where he bangs out 20 quick pull-ups. One of the whiteboards in his bedroom lists a daily goal of 200, good for 1,000 a week. He thrives on these small habits, puzzle pieces to a bigger picture.
When asked what might stop him from reaching his goals, David is quick to answer.
The answer is more layered than that. He’s goofy, for sure, but he means his diet and lifestyle are both part of the equation. Ahead of the U.S. Open last April, the first step in the Junior World Team Trials process, Dresser pulled him aside in the locker room and offered some advice.
“You know, if you get four hours or sleep and eat only a little bit of sugar, you might win,” Dresser told him. “But if you get better sleep and eat no sugar, you might pin everybody.”
David went 6-0 and outscored his opponents by a combined 56-18, which followed his 23-1 record as a redshirt this past season, where he recorded eight major decisions, three pins and three technical falls. He knows he’ll have to be much better if he wants to win next March.
“I’ll make a new sign when I get home,” he continues. “No gummy bears, better sleep, national title.”
He turns toward the bleachers in the wrestling room and spots an Iowa bag on the ground.
“What’s this doing here?”
He looks around for an answer, perplexed. There’s none. He looks back at the bag.
“An alarm should go off every time anything Iowa is in the room.”
Still no response.
“Whose IS this?”
A few kids chuckle and point at their friend. David shakes his head, picks up the bag, and walks up to him.
“We need to get you an Iowa State bag, man.”
David walks onto the mat and calls the kids into a circle. Time for more technique. One kid tries to tie-up with him, but David throws him in a headlock, calls a quick pin, then stands up, raises his own hand, and smiles and waves to an imaginary crowd. The kids laugh.
Then he runs to the wall, pretends to pick up an American flag, and carries it around the mat, as if to celebrate a world title.
He is David Carr.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
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Source: Des Moines Register