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Iowa's T.J. Williams proves winning is the best defense



The 2001 Cliff Keen/NWCA National Wrestling Duals pits the top college wrestling teams in the country against each other for the right to be called the best dual team in college wrestling. One of the featured stars this weekend is T.J. Williams of the University of Iowa. His style is reminiscent of the swarming defense of the Super-Bowl bound Baltimore Ravens, which set an NFL record for allowing the least amount of points scored in a single season. It's hard to lose if you don't give up any points. Often criticized by fickle wrestling fans for not scoring enough points, his defense is outstanding, allowing only one takedown and no reversals so far this year. Williams comes to this year's Cliff Keen/NWCA Duals with a little something to prove and this couldn't be a better place. After all, the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State University was where T.J. breezed to an undefeated season and an NCAA title at 149 pounds in 1999. With the college wrestling world watching (not to mention the thousands of Hawkeye faithful), the senior from Chicago, Ill. looks to lead his team to an upset victory at the National Duals in hopes of building momentum for the NCAA Championships in March. T.J. certainly comes from a wrestling family, to say the least. His older brother Steve was a two time JUCO champion at Iowa Central Community College, and older brother Joe was a three time NCAA champion for the Hawkeyes and is a freestyle star on the international circuit. Joe is currently on the coaching staff at the University of Iowa and is a constant reminder to T.J. of what hard work brings. According to T.J., his biggest influence in his wrestling career has been his family and his coaches. "My family has always been supportive of me, especially my brothers. I have been lucky to have coaches from grammar school through college that all were basically on the same page. What I mean by that is, they ALL wanted the best for me in my wrestling and have given me the chance to be the best. Every single coach I have ever had has taught me a technique or given me the confidence to be a high school champ, a national champ, and an Olympic champ," he said. After starting his college career at Lassen Junior College (CA), T.J. followed in his older brothers footsteps while choosing to continue his Division I career at Iowa. As a sophomore at Iowa, T.J. dominated throughout the entire year while going undefeated en route to his first NCAA title. Many believed it would be the first of three NCAA crowns. While rolling along last year, T.J. ran into a bump in the road in the form of Larry Quisel of Boise State. In what was a close match, T.J. never really got an offense going and ended up losing in the NCAA semifinals in overtime by a score of 3-1. This proved to be an uncommon experience for T.J., as he had not wrestled back for third since competing at Lassen in his freshman year. " I learned a lot from that loss," he said. "It showed me that even the best can lose some time. It was tough, but I got back in a positive frame of mind knowing that my team and my fans needed me to come through for them with a third place finish". Did the loss to Quisel served as an incentive to step it up this year? "I only think about it in situations when I am competing and not opening up when I should," he said. "I have mostly put it behind me and am just trying to simply dominate and force my style. If I do that, nobody can usually touch me". If Iowa is to repeat as NCAA champions this year, they will certainly have to get past a young but tough Oklahoma State squad, who handed the Hawkeyes a defeat earlier in the year. According to T.J., the loss will only help the Hawkeyes. "The loss to Oklahoma State reminded me of when I lost in the semi's last year. It proved that we need to work harder and force our style of wrestling. If we do that as a team, we have momentum on our side in our place. As a team, we are all now on the same frame of mind. We all want the same thing for each other and have to keep the attitude and focus in order to take the title," said Williams. T.J. is planning to move on to bigger and better things athletically and personally in the future. "I am hoping to win the team title and working to win the individual title of course, but after that I will graduate shortly thereafter with a degree in graphic design. Basically, after college… everything is freestyle and focusing on taking it to the next level. It's going to be a big transition but the goal is a gold medal in 2004," he said. When talking of Olympics and gold medals, many fans were looking at T.J.'s older brother Joe to have a shot in the Sydney Games. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be, as Joe lost in the Trials Challenge Tournament to Brian Dolph of the Dave Schultz Wrestling Club. The thought of his brother not making the Olympic team has served as a motivating factor for T.J. "In wrestling, you either compete hard or keep it close and risk losing. If he had gone out there and have wrestled all-out, he would have won. I felt real bad for him because it basically shattered his dream and mine. I know he has learned from his mistakes, and I have too. Joe is someone I really look up to. He is on a path where I am trying to get. I have definitely learned from his experiences, both good and bad. What ever happens, I know Joe always watches my back, and I am grateful for that," he said. What are some things the fans at the Cliff keen/NWCA Duals might see T.J. doing different this weekend? "I am trying to hit more holes and extend a lead right away and look for big points in the first period. I want to open it up right away and ride guys a little more while working for back points". T.J. also added, "When I don't want to work out as hard as I should, those are the days when I do the extra to help me get where I need to be. I don't want to put the match in the other guys hands". With the 2001 NCAA Championships being held in Iowa City at Carver Hawkeye Arena, T.J. is looking to go out with both guns blazing. "I want to make it a memorable tournament because I certainly have fond memories of this place and the fans. The fans at Iowa are the best fans in college wrestling without a doubt," he said. T.J. also sees the dedication of the coaching staff and knows it is going to pay off in March. "When I think I have it tough, I look at the coaches and that puts it all in perspective. They do a great job simply by putting their unlimited amount of time in the room. I go in early, they are there. I leave late, they are still there. They give so much to us as a team and as individuals. I can't imagine what their families are going through without them being around that much, and I really appreciate that. I plan on making my coaches proud come March," he said. The jury will be out on Williams' college career this season. The defense rests.
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