Few can hang with Mr. Cooper in NJCAA

Edwin Cooper (Photo/IC Sports Information)

Wrestling fans may think the phrase "one-and-done" only applies to college basketball players leaving after one season to play in the NBA. But at Iowa Central Community College, one-and-done has taken on a whole new meaning under head coach Luke Moffitt.

The former Big Ten champion at Iowa instituted a policy when he took over at Iowa Central eight years ago whereby students who win NJCAA titles during their freshman year can remain on scholarship but will be redshirted their sophomore year so they have three years of athletic eligibility at their next school. It's a win-win as Iowa Central improves the quality of its wrestling room with reigning NJCAA national champions as drilling partners for the new recruits. It's part of a recruiting pitch that shows kids that Iowa Central has the best interests of the individual wrestler at heart, and it's a route that past NJCAA national champions like Willie Parks and Cain Velasquez have already taken.

Troy Bennett
"Our long-range goal is to see our kids be successful at the Division I level, not accumulate JUCO titles," Iowa Central assistant coach Troy Bennett said. "We're probably the only college in the NJCAA that sits down and talks with our kids about redshirting. Most wouldn't recruit a kid and give him the same athletic money knowing that he won't wrestle his sophomore year. I think that shows kids that it's not just about Iowa Central, but also about the kid in the long run when it comes to wrestling."

So this weekend will be Edwin Cooper's first -- and likely last -- opportunity to win an NJCAA wrestling title. At 28-1 and ranked No. 1 at 149 pounds, Cooper is the heavy favorite heading into the NJCAA Wrestling Championships in Rochester, Minn.

His success is not surprising considering Cooper was a prized recruit coming out of Providence Catholic in the south suburbs of Chicago. He was a two-time state champion and the first four-time winner of the prestigious Al Dvorak Memorial Tournament. Cooper was the 24th-ranked recruit in the country by InterMat as a senior, but poor grades forced him to turn down a host of Division I suitors and go the JUCO route instead. So he joined his good buddy and Team Illinois teammate Jahwon Akui in Fort Dodge. The Iowa Central roommates are both the top-ranked NJCAA wrestlers in their respective weight classes (Akui at 174) heading into the NJCAA Wrestling Championships.

Edwin Cooper battles Zac Brunson in the Junior National freestyle finals (Photo/Dave Jedlicka,
Iowa Central's location near Ames allows them to participate in bigger tournaments like the UNI Open, Harold Nichols Cyclone Open (Iowa State), and Iowa Duals. The top-flight competition hasn't bothered Cooper, who won the aforementioned meets, beat several Division I kids, including Iowa's Jacob Ballweg this season, and has scored bonus points in 21 of his 28 wins. His only loss came in his first college tournament, where Cooper led Minnesota's Matt Mincey 7-3 with 15 seconds left before Mincey hipped Cooper over on a reshot and put him on his back for five points to earn the 8-7 comeback win. Cooper would later avenge that loss to Mincey with a 10-8 decision on his way to winning in Cedar Rapids.

Despite his gaudy record, Cooper admits that wrestling in college has been an adjustment for him. "The matches are a lot closer, so you have to keep attacking," he said. "Also, you have wrestle on the entire mat."

Luke Moffitt
Not only is Cooper being successful on the mat, he's also thriving off of it. "He's never missed a class or a study hall," Moffitt said. "He's got a 3.4 GPA right now. He's doing everything right."

In the future, both Moffitt and Bennett feel the nearly 5'10" Cooper would be better served hitting the weight room and moving up to become a good-sized 157-pounder.

"I think he needs to utilize the offseason and wrestle freestyle," Coach Moffitt said. "Wrestle some older guys that are more experienced and see how it goes. If he wins, it's a huge confidence booster. If he comes up short, he understands what he needs to do to compete at that level."

Thanks to stud newcomers like Cooper and Akui, Iowa Central enters the NJCAA Wrestling Championships as the top-ranked team and favorite to take home a national title. Regardless of the outcome this weekend, however, Cooper figures to be a very hot commodity for Division I schools next year. When he does move on, Cooper says the coaches and the type of training partners are going to be the biggest factors in his decision.

"He's had an impressive year," Moffitt said. "I expect him to go in and really dominate the tournament."


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