Iowa All-American Jacob Warner brings a fresh mental approach to the NWCA All-Star Classic

Jacob Warner poses for a portrait during Hawkeyes Wrestling Media Day on Thursday, October 27, 2022 at the Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Jacob Warner wrestled with his own sanity over the summer.

He endured thoughts of disappointment at losing on college wrestling’s greatest stage—that nagging pang of missing out on the big moment and having to settle for a second NCAA finish.

Many wrestlers would have accepted that.

“I struggled a lot this summer just thinking about screwing up the biggest match of my life,” said the four-time All-America 197-pounder from Iowa. “I messed it up. Speaking to (Iowa Associate Head Coach) Terry (Brands), finishing second and seventh is no different. I didn’t make it onto the podium.

“That’s one thing I’ve been trying to convince myself. No matter what, you’re not at the top of the podium. I had to reconsider how I was thinking and think I didn’t screw up. I didn’t screw it up. I blew it every year. I screwed up every year. Luckily that calmed me down to put my mind at rest.”

The experience has reshaped his mental approach. With a pin, an important decision and a technical fall, he started the first week of competition 3-0. Warner will compete in the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic Tuesday in Austin, Texas alongside teammate Tony Cassioppi, Iowa State duo David Carr and Kysen Terukina, North Iowa Parker Keckeisen and Iowa Wesleyan Adaugo Nwachukwu .

Warner meets Missouri’s Rocky Elam in the first collegiate match between the returning All-Americans.

“It’s another game,” Warner said. “I’ve spent the last five years getting too nervous for games, so I don’t do that anymore. I’m not too worried about that.”

Warner took a different approach in his sixth year with the Hawkeyes. He’s learned to focus and not freak out before games. The 23-year-old avoids getting too excited and nervous too soon like the 18-year-old version.

Warner has a better perspective.

“If it comes down to the All-Star meeting, I’m going to get there, do my business, and then move on,” Warner said. “It’s November. It’s not March, but it’s still important to win.

“It’s more like I’m a veteran. I know what I’m doing now. I don’t have to worry about my skills. I know my ability. I trust in my abilities.”

Iowa coach Tom Brands said Warner showed a free spirit and a fun attitude. Perhaps Warner is trying to loosen up and dive into his final campaign as Hawkeye.

“He’s always been like that and[I]always liked him like that,” Brands said. “Those are good qualities. Those are actually good memories for me when I think about Jacob Warner.”

A change in approach on the mat between the Big Ten championships helped improve Warner in last season’s national tournament. They found out how he had to fight to win, whether it was through pressure, attack or riding.

“A lot of it was wrestling on the spur of the moment,” Warner said. “I didn’t have a great game plan, but I think one thing I started this summer is to find out where I’m really good and what needs to happen for me to get to the top of the podium. For the past few years, I’ve only wrestled to wrestle.”

Interestingly, Warner traveled to New York from Iowa for two days of duals. He made his first trip to the Empire State. Mark another Texas first, but he’ll have some familiar local faces cheering him on.

“I’ve never been to Austin either,” Warner said. “I actually have a lot of high school teammates who live in Austin now, so that’s going to be cool.

“I like wrestling. I like to go and compete. I like being able to go to new places. That’s one thing that this sport has allowed me to travel. I’m super thankful for. I like doing it.”

Like many of their events, Cassioppi will follow Warner onto the mat. He will face Penn State’s Greg Kerkvliet at the heavyweight division in the penultimate bout of the night. A clash of national champions is the main event, with Penn State’s Carter Starocci and Virginia Tech’s Mekhi Lewis competing at 174.

Carr, a two-time All-American and 2021 NCAA champion, will take on Princeton’s Quincy on Monday. Their respective fathers, Nate Carr and Kenny Monday, were rivals and NCAA champions for Iowa State and Oklahoma State, respectively. This is the first meeting between the younger competitors.

Terukina takes on Minnesota’s Patrick McKee at 125.

Second-place Keckeisen meets two-time NCAA champion and No. 1 ranked Aaron Brooks with 184. Brooks won a regular season game between the two in Florida last season and also won their national semifinals in 2021.

Nwachukwu will compete in one of four women’s matches. She will face off against McKendree’s Alara Boyd. Nwachukwu is an NAIA National Champion and won a bronze medal at the U20 World Championships in August.

This year marks a return of the All-Star Classic after a four-year hiatus. The event was a marquee competition that saw two of the best wrestlers compete against their weight in a dual format for many decades. It’s jumped around the schedule, at the end of the season, in January, and even as an inaugural competition for wrestlers.

At times it was difficult to get the top wrestlers to sign, but new guidelines on names, pictures and likenesses are a new factor.

“I think the NIL stuff with it, I don’t know if anyone is aware of it, but I think it makes a difference,” Brands said. “And I think the promoters are not fools. With the way collegiate athletics is currently, there are opportunities to bring together the best talent in one place. There is a way to do that, by putting some money in their pocket through the NIL framework.

“Not that it wouldn’t be a good event anyway. It gets the best talent there. At least it gives you the best chance of finding the best talent there.”

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