Iowa State’s Pat Downey ready to make use of second chance to wrestle at Division I level

By Taylor Miller, USA Wrestling | Nov. 30, 2016, 1:09 p.m. (ET)
 Pat Downey moves down to 184 pounds this year.
Photo: Tony Rotundo,
In early 2014, Pat Downey’s dream of wrestling at a Division I school was crushed, or so he thought.

Nebraska head coach Mark Manning released Downey, a freshman at the time, from the Huskers’ wrestling team reportedly for behavior issues.

“It was tough. I’m not going to lie. I had worked so hard to earn a scholarship and get a full ride to a DI university as prestigious as Nebraska in a conference like the Big Ten,” Downey said. “I’m from Baltimore, where everyone is recruited for football, lacrosse or basketball. It’s rare to even get full rides for wrestling. A part of me thought that was end of wrestling.”

His path to Nebraska was unique.

With support of U.S. wrestling legend and former Iowa State head coach Bobby Douglas, Downey, who saw some success at the Junior Freestyle National Championships, was ultimately invited to train in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center right out of high school.

After falling short of his goal of making the 2012 Olympic Team, Downey earned a spot on the Junior World Team and won a silver medal at the Junior World Championships that summer, his first international tournament.

During his time at the OTC, he got to know and train with 2012 Olympic champion and three-time World champion Jordan Burroughs, a Husker alumnus, who played a part in Downey’s recruiting.

“It was motivating and humbling at the same time,” Downey said. “Being able to train with him and have a guy of his caliber recognize your talent and potential is not only humbling but it drove me. It made me realize that I really do have what it takes to be successful. That played a big part in me wanting to pursue wrestling at the next level.”

By the time Downey got to Nebraska’s campus, he recently turned 21 and was distracted by the new freedoms that came with being a 21-year-old.

“I got sidetracked in my time at Nebraska. I wasn’t doing what I was there to do. I was caught up in other things like partying,” Downey said. “I was really under a strict lifestyle at the OTC and getting thrown into that college environment kind of caught me by surprise. I started to get back on track but then I had a real bad injury, getting into an altercation and broke my thumb. Ultimately, Coach Manning had to let me go. They had to do what was right for them and the program and I have no grudges against anybody there.

“Coach Manning just told me ‘Go start your MMA career. You like fighting.’ It made me appreciate wrestling a lot more and lit a fire under me because I wasn’t ready to start fighting. I have a lot of goals in wrestling. I’m not an NCAA champ. I’m not a World champ. I’m not an Olympic champ. So when I feel like I’ve accomplished what I can, then I’m ready to go fight. That time at Nebraska, despite what went down, will always be a motivator in my life.”

The Baltimore, Md., native was afforded another chance to wrestle when he heard from Luke Moffitt and Troy Bennett, coaches for Iowa Central, a community college in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

He enrolled at Iowa Central and spent the rest of the year studying.

The following year, he stepped back on the mat and put together a fruitful redshirt freshman campaign, going undefeated and winning an individual NJCAA national title at 197 pounds as well as helping the Triton squad to a team title.

“For me, even bigger than winning the individual title was winning the team title,” he said. “I can’t explain it, but the camaraderie and the bonds that were made will last forever. Our whole team got matching tattoos after winning, even Coach. There are some things that happened at Iowa Central and some connections that are really special. That’s what I appreciate most about my time at Iowa Central. As a team, we really bonded and we accomplished a huge goal, bringing a national title to Iowa Central.”

In addition to the success on the Junior College level, Downey also made a statement on the Senior freestyle scene, qualifying for the World Team Trials and competing at the U.S. Open.

With his associate’s degree in hand, Downey was given options, once again, to compete at the Division I level.

It came down to two schools: Iowa and Iowa State.

He ultimately decided to suit up in Cardinal and Gold.

One of the deciding factors was his connection to Head Coach Kevin Jackson and assistant coaches Travis and Trent Paulson.

The Iowa State wrestling room also offered a surplus of quality training partners around Downey’s weight.

“I feel like Iowa State has more guys who are more suited for me like the Paulsons, Kyven Gadson and Matt Gibson as training partners. At the time, Deron Winn was here and he was a great training partner,” Downey said. “I had a lot of different guys at the upper weights who could help me. Iowa State’s history of their upper weights speaks for itself. You’ve got Jake Varner, Kyven Gadson, Jon Reader and Travis and Trent Paulson. There have just been a ton of bad asses come through Iowa State, so why not try to join them?”

In his first year with the Cyclones, the 2015-16 season, Downey served as the 197-pounder and wrestled to an 11-4 record. He went on to finish third at the Big 12 Championships, earning him an automatic bid to his first Division I NCAA championship at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

An unseeded Downey lit up the 197-pound weight class in the Big Apple, taking out four ranked opponents to finish with All-American honors.

His performance was highlighted by a round-of-16 tie-breaker pin over No. 6 Jared Haught of Virginia Tech. In the fifth-place bout, he tallied another pin over Haught. He also knocked off No. 11 Phil Wellington of Ohio and No. 7 Brett Harner of Princeton.

He made a name for himself at 197 pounds with that fifth-place NCAA finish.

This season, Downey is taking on a new challenge: 184 pounds, arguably the deepest weight class in the NCAA, featuring two-time NCAA champion Gabe Dean, NCAA champion Myles Martin and NCAA runners-up Bo Nickal and TJ Dudley.

The biggest factor in making the weight change was that it is where Downey felt most comfortable. He was an undersized 197-pounder, entering the NCAA championships at 192 pounds.

“You can really feel it when you’re wrestling guys bigger than you all year. It takes a toll your body,” he said. “All the hype about the weight class is a motivating factor because everyone thinks it’s so deep, so I want to win at the best weight class. I think I’m the biggest, strongest and most athletic 184-pounder in the country. I’m in the perfect position to make a run at the NCAA title from my weight management, my development and all the hard work we’ve put in this preseason. This is my year.”

So far this season, 184 pounds seems to be a good choice as Downey has pinned three of his four opponents and remains undefeated.

As he inches closer and closer to his goal, Downey said he reflects on the journey and the motivation that every twist and turn has given him. Not only has he found a second chance at Iowa State but he’s also found a home.

“It’s meant everything. It’s been a hectic and sometimes tough journey that can break you when things don’t go your way,” he said. “In a small community like wrestling where people have been writing me off, saying I’m not DI material and don’t have what it takes, and all the haters and naysayers giving their opinion, it means a lot when a living legend like Coach Jackson is willing to put his name and reputation on the line for me to give me a second chance at the DI scene. I’m loving it here. It’s the right fit.”