ST. LOUIS — Drew Foster never won a state wrestling championship for Mediapolis High School.
Foster was passed up by many schools as he narrowed his list of colleges to attend.
Something about Foster caught University of Northern Iowa assistant coach Randy Pugh’s eye.
“He’s going to be something special,” Pugh repeatedly told UNI head coach Doug Schwab the last three years.
Special? How about All-American?
Foster, a state runner-up his senior year at Mediapolis, realized a lifelong dream on Friday night in front of 18,344 raucous fans at the Scottrade Center and a national television audience.
Foster, after losing a heartbreaking 11-7 decision to fourth seed Nolan Boyd of Oklahoma State in the 184-pound quarterfinals on Friday morning, battled back to beat North Carolina State’s Michael Machiavelli, 3-1, in the consolations on Friday night, solidifying All-American status.
As Foster removed his leg bands and flung them in the air, he pumped his fists in celebration.
Special? How about All-American?
“It feels great. Now I just have to climb up the podium,” Foster said. “I’m still undersized at 184. I’m walking around at 190, so over the summer just getting bigger, strong. Just improving on my stuff. There’s a lot of stuff I need to do to get to the top. It’s coming out at these nationals.”
“The way he carries himself. He doesn’t get carried up in it. He’s got wrestling in perspective. It’s not life or death. It’s not going to change who he is — whether his Mom loves him, who his friends are, when his birthday is, whether he wins or loses a match,” said Pugh, a former two-time state champion for Columbus High School and All-American at UNI. “I don’t really care if he every wrestles another wrestling match. Obviously we want him to on the team. I’m more proud of the the kid that he is, the way he was raised and the man that he’s turning into be. That’s bigger to me than any result will ever be, any wins or losses.”
Foster, after a scramble came up empty late in the first period, gave up an escape to start the second period. But Foster came back, getting in on a deep single-leg, working nearly 30 seconds before scoring what proved to be the winning takedown.
“He’s a good guy, strong. He was attacking the whole time. That’s what it comes down to — just grit. We get that a lot in our room. Look at guys like Jacob Holschlag, Dylan Peters. Those guys are gritty dudes. I just feed off of that,” Foster said. “I think we both kind of stopped. We both thought a whistle blew or something. We just have to keep wrestling. That was a mistake on both our parts.”
“He’s an All-American as a sophomore. He was never a state champion. That’s a valuable lesson for some of these kids out there. “m not sure if can wrestle Division I and I’m not sure if I should do this,” UNI coach Doug Schwab said. “Randy Push saw something in him the whole time. When you’ve got somebody that believes in you, that makes a huge difference. We believed in him no matter what. I couldn’t be more proud of him. He’s built himself into being an All-American. No one can take that away from him.”
Foster scored an escape in the third period and held on for the victory.
Foster came back in the consolation quarterfinals, losing an 8-6 decision to defending national champion Myles Martin of Ohio State.
Foster (25-6) will wrestle Nate Jackson (33-5) for seventh place at 10 a.m. today.
“The work ethic is always there,” Foster said. “It was just a matter of getting that experience and building up my size. I felt good at 174 last year. But changing to 184 was a big jump. It took some getting used to it. Right now I’m used to it.”
“The thing I like is he enjoys it. He has fun with it. I think three years ago when he was coming out of high school and you said he was going to be on the stand as a sophomore, a lot of people would have laughed at you.,” Schwab said.
“We wouldn’t have, but I think a lot of people would. Those are great stories. You want kids like that. You want the Drew Fosters.”
Foster found himself in a 6-0 hole against Boyd early on when Boyd hit a takedown and took Foster to his back for four near-fall points.
“It’s a game-changer. I almost came back with a big one of my own. It was on the edge a little bit. That might have made a difference, but he’s a good wrestler,” Foster said.
“Coach told me that would work, so I remembered that in my mind. That was big, but it wasn’t enough to finish the match. There were still six minutes left or something like that,” Boyd said.
Foster responded in the second period, using a move he had never tried before — a high flier. Foster stunned Boyd with the move, putting the Oklahoma State senior on his back on the edge of the mat for four points. Foster looked like he might finish the pinning predicament, but ran out of room and his foot slid out of bounds, ending the move.
Still, he was back in the match, trailing 6-4.
“I just kind of went for it. I’ve never done that before,” Foster said. “It was probably close, but we were out of bounds with it. I think my feet dragged out. I’m not sure.”
“He got two takedown and two back. I’ve just been thinking in my head, ‘Hey, you could get stunned. You could get taken down to your back. Keep wrestling,” Boyd said. “Apparently it wasn’t big enough because he started coming back there. I had to do something again to get more momentum. It was just continuing the momentum.”
“He got down 6-0 but he gave himself a chance. He’s a competitor. I don’t know if he’s ever hit a high-flier in his life, but he almost pinned the guy off of it,” Schwab said. “You’ve got to love that a guy is willing to take a risk there and not just kind of bail out. He put himself back in that match. When it’s 6-4 you need to put yourself in the match. But getting down 6-0 is a tough thing. You’ve got to be able to get off the bottom. That’s a really, really big thing, obviously, for anybody. Great competitors respond. They rise back.”