MOUNT PLEASANT — Fifth-one years ago, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon and planted the American flag on the surface, signifying United States dominance in space exploration.
On Monday morning, Iowa Wesleyan University head wrestling coach Shawn Contos planted a flag of sorts of his own, announcing the addition of four local athletes to the fledgling program’s first class of recruits and staking the Tigers’ claim to first dibs on high school wrestlers in southeast Iowa.
Keegan Akers of Mediapolis, Javis Krieger of New London, James DeMeyer of Mount Pleasant and Brendon Lunsford of Fairfield are the first area wrestlers to sign with Iowa Wesleyan and Contos said he hopes it is just the start of something big, both for Iowa Wesleyan and southeast Iowa.
“We definitely want to stay in this area and get as many kids as we can. With the mentality and technique of our program and the family-first feel, I think it’s going to be a no-brainer that they stay here and just realize that we can do great things here and we are going to,” Contos said. “These guys are the initial kids that we have to show them that you can have true success here. It’s not just us blowing smoke. The success that they have and the attitude and fun that they have will help it spread throughout the community and the region. It’s going to spread like wildfire because what we have is real and honest and it’s going to be fun.”
Lunsford, a state placewinner for Fairfield High School, spent the last two seasons on the Hannibal-LaGrange University wrestling team. He is expected to compete for the starting heavyweight spot for the Tigers, who open the season in November.
“It’s nice coming from Hannibal-LaGrange, an older program, coming to a new one, helping them start a program in southeast Iowa,” Lunsford said. “There’s not a whole lot of wrestling in southeast Iowa right now. This program is up and coming and Indian Hills is staring a program. It’s nice to see multiple programs opening up this year. It’s nice to help found the program, start it up.”
Akers, who wrestled at Mediapolis under former NCAA Division I All-American Jason Payne, is expected to compete for a spot at heavyweight as a true freshman. He has bulked up to 270 pounds through a spring and summer of hard work in the weight room.
“I think it’s going to open up a lot of doors for kids here in southeast Iowa,” Akers said. “I’m very excited. Just knowing that I have a coach who has coached a long time and knows what he is doing.”
Krieger, a former state qualifier for New London, graduated in 2018, while DeMeyer, a 2019 graduate of Mount Pleasant High School, spent last year at Kirkwood Community College while recovering from shoulder surgery.
Both Krieger and DeMeyer thought their wrestling careers were over, but Contos and Iowa Wesleyan gave them a second chance. They hope to open doors for other wrestlers in southeast Iowa.
“I think it’s a great idea to get college wrestling in southeast Iowa. It’s going to one up a lot of doors for a lot of kids who will be graduating in the coming years,” Krieger said. “It’s going to be fun. (Contos) has a lot of excitement and it’s going to be fun seeing him bring all that excitement into the wrestling room.”
“It’s nice to have a brand new program in southeast Iowa. It’s crazy that’s it’s been 30 years since we’ve had a program here,” DeMeyer said. “When I heard the opportunity to wrestle in my hometown, I was all for it.”
Lunsford knows what it takes to compete at the NAIA level. He hopes to use that experience to help the Iowa Wesleyan program grow and flourish.
“I wrestled at Hannibal-LaGrange, so I could see what it takes to wrestle at the collegiate level. Obviously that program is not going to be at the same level this program should be. I know what it takes to get used to the college experience wrestling, so I am happy to be in this program,” Lunsford said. “I know some coaches just kind of go through the motions, but I can tell Coach Contos wants to improve every year and be a top-level program. It’s exciting to be a part of this program, seeing all the time and effort they are putting into this program.”
Contos, who comes to Iowa Wesleyan after a long stint as an assistant coach at Penn State under Cael Sanderson, is chomping at the bit to get started. While he plans to recruit nationally, he knows southeast Iowa is a hotbed of wrestling and plans to tap into that pipeline permanently.
“This is the heartbeat of our program. Recruiting is the hot zone. Our brand of wrestling is going to be honest,” Contos said. “These guys represent that mindset and that philosophy. They are going to work real hard. I am anxious to see them on the mat because this is the embodiment of what Iowa Wesleyan is going to be — local guys with the right mindset doing their best and having fun.”