AMES — Take a quick walk through the Harold Nichols Wrestling Room, and seemingly everybody in the Iowa State wrestling program has a different description for Casey Swiderski.
“I jokingly call him a backwood dog,” says assistant coach Brent Metcalf. “He’s just a mean, tough kid.”
“He’s that savage dude you like to have in your room,” adds head coach Kevin Dresser. “I tell everybody he’s a little savage.”
As Swiderski stands for an interview during the team’s media day on Tuesday, David Carr, a two-time All-American and past NCAA champ, jumps on him and offers his own assessment.
“Casey Swiderski is a beast!” Carr yells.
Swiderski smiles. “Hey, thanks,” he says.
These are all terms of endearment, by the way, a real-life representation of the excitement surrounding Swiderski, a true freshman from Dundee, Mich., who is expected to jump right into Iowa State’s starting lineup this season.
“He’s going to be an exciting guy for Iowa State fans to follow over the next five years,” Dresser continued. “If you pick Casey (in the room), you better be ready to go. This is really important to him. He loves to compete. He is just a competitor.”
Swiderski is the front-runner to start at 141 pounds, filling the hole left by veteran Ian Parker. Expectations are large. He was the headliner of the Cyclones’ ballyhooed 2022 recruiting class, the No. 3 overall pound-for-pound prospect in the country. He is the biggest blue-chip get for Iowa State since, well, David Carr.
The early returns suggest he is up for the challenge — “This is 100% what I thought and what I pictured,” he said Tuesday — and by doing so, he is the front man for the next phase in Iowa State’s program rebuild.
The 2022-23 season is Dresser’s sixth as Iowa State’s head coach. The Cyclones have experienced steady growth each year — from an 8-10 dual-meet record to 15-1 overall last season; from seventh at the Big 12 Championships to four consecutive top-three team finishes; from one NCAA qualifier in 2018 to three All-Americans in 2022.
For as much success as Iowa State has had under Dresser — a 52-23 overall dual-meet record, an outright Big 12 regular-season dual-meet title last season, six different wrestlers earning All-American honors — the Cyclones have yet to crack the top-10 at the national tournament, a goal Dresser sought a year ago and still seeks this season.
Last season, three Cyclone wrestlers earned All-American status, with David Carr taking third at 157 pounds, Marcus Coleman taking seventh at 184, and Yonger Bastida taking fifth at 197. But the other six qualifiers went 1-12 at the national tournament. Four are back again this season.
Enter this year’s group of freshmen, which is really a combination of the 2022 recruiting class as well as a handful from the 2021 recruiting haul who grey-shirted last season (one of note: Paniro Johnson, the expected starter at 149). Many expect them to take the program to new heights.
“That whole freshman class is insane,” says Carr, who will bump to 165 pounds this season after twice earning All-American honors at 157. “When I first got here, I don’t think guys really believed that they could do it. Now, more guys are like, it’s my time.
“That freshman class came in believing. At Iowa State, we can be national champs. We can be All-Americans. It’s on the wall, and they see it every day.”
And Swiderski will be the first to take the torch.
He is as credentialed as they come: one of 31 four-time Michigan state champs all-time, a winner at FloWrestling’s Who’s Number One event, a Junior men’s freestyle national finalist, and a top-four finisher at the Super 32 Challenge. But the stories of his competitive streak are even better.
Here’s one from Tim Roberts, Swiderski’s coach at Dundee: as a high school freshman, Swiderski wrestled 103 pounds, but in his very first match, he bumped all the way up to 125 to wrestle a returning state medalist. He wanted the challenge, Roberts said.
Swiderski unleashed a relentless pace, complete with his trademark physicality and crisp technique, and scored eight takedowns — seriously: three in the first period, two in the second, three more in the third — on his way to a 16-8 major decision victory.
“He never ran from competition,” Roberts said. “He’s always been tough, but he’s also very coachable. He’s always listening and taking in information, no matter who he works with.”
That fire remains now that he’s in the Iowa State room. He moved to Ames in May and spent all summer and preseason impressing his coaches and teammates — including Metcalf, himself a four-time Michigan state champ before his illustrious career at Iowa.
“He’s a competitor at the highest level,” Metcalf said. “You put him in the spotlight, down one with a minute to go, he’s got the swagger to go get one. He’s got that tough, grittiness. He doesn’t give up anything and tries to beat people up in the room.
“But he’s still young. There’s going to be a lot of tests ahead for him. His biggest deal, like any freshman, is figuring out the bottom position, but also understanding the importance of doing all the little things right. He’s going to have to figure that part out.”
Indeed, Iowa State’s 2022-23 schedule features plenty of individual heavy-hitters for Swiderski. Assuming he stays healthy and no travel hiccups, he is expected to see nine wrestlers ranked in InterMat’s preseason poll at 141 — including Iowa’s second-ranked Real Woods in December and Pittsburgh’s top-ranked Cole Matthews in February.
That’s a daunting challenge for any wrestler let alone a true freshman, but Swiderski — the backwood dog, the little savage, the beast — is looking forward to it.
“I’ve talked to Metcalf, and he just told me, ‘If you want to be the guy, be the guy,’” Swiderski said Tuesday. “That’s the plan. My goals are to be an NCAA champ, so why not do it now?”
He paused, then smiled.
“I’m just ready to go, man,” Swiderski continued. “It’s going to be fun.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Meet Iowa State's talented true freshman wrestler, Casey Swiderski