Luke Lofthouse hasn’t really been at Iowa forever.
Contrary to the jokes his teammates might crack about his age, Lofthouse hasn’t been wrestling for the Hawkeyes since the days of horsehide mats. He wasn’t on Dan Gable’s first national championship team. He didn’t show the Brands brothers around on their recruiting trip to Iowa, either.
It only seems like Lofthouse has been with the Hawkeyes forever.
“Literally,” freshman Derek St. John said. “Forever.”
Lofthouse is 25. He’s married and has a nephew on the Iowa roster. He’s a seventh-year senior in a lineup loaded with first-time starters, many of whom were in junior high when Lofthouse first joined the Hawkeyes.
“There’s a lot of respect and reverence there,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “It’s almost like a grandpa, even though he’s not even close to that age.”
Lofthouse’s time at Iowa, though, has spanned three distinct chapters in the program’s history — the end of Jim Zalesky’s tenure as coach, the construction of a three-year title run under Brands with a core group of main contributors and the lineup overhaul this season.
The sixth-ranked Hawkeyes (4-0) largely are an untested bunch going into Friday night’s dual against Iowa State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Seven of their starters have yet to compete in a meet of this magnitude in front of a crowd in excess of 10,000, but Iowa has yet to lose a match this season and Lofthouse is 4-0 at 197 pounds with two major decisions, a technical fall and a pin.
Lofthouse went through his indoctrination to the series six years ago. He wrestled at 174 pounds as a true freshman for the Hawkeyes. He dropped a 12-8 decision to Nick Passolano in the first match of the dual. Iowa State won 19-16.
The Cyclones have had three coaches since then. Iowa State’s 184-pounder that day was sophomore Kurt Backes, who finished his career with the Cyclones, spent a season at Missouri, a year at Virginia Tech and now works extensively with Lofthouse as Iowa’s volunteer assistant.
Some of the younger Hawkeyes were asking Backes about his college experiences last week on the drive home from Iowa’s dual meets in Mount Vernon. Lofthouse sat in the back and listened to Backes talk about matches he had years ago against Paul Bradley.
“I was like, ‘I remember that. I was here. I was wrestling,’” Lofthouse said. “It’s funny because it’s like you’re living two different time periods.”
During the previous time period, Lofthouse and Mark Perry were freshmen at Iowa in 2005. Perry is now the co-coach at Cal Poly.
“It’s pretty comical, really,” Perry said. “I think everybody that was on that team that was my age probably wishes they were in his shoes right now.”
Lofthouse took his lumps as a freshman. He was a three-time Utah state champion at Mountain Crest High School, finishing his prep career at 189 pounds. The Hawkeyes needed somebody at 174. They mentioned the possibility to Lofthouse and he agreed to try cutting down.
“That was huge as a learning process for me,” Lofthouse said. “I learned a lot that first year, but at the same time it was tough. When I came as a freshman and stepped on campus, I was bigger than I am now, quite a bit bigger, and I was going down to ‘74.”
Lofthouse won his first college tournament and had an 8-6 record at one point. But over time, the weight cutting sapped his strength and he hit a wall midway through the season. He lost his last 11 matches of the season and finished 8-17.
“From a work ethic and lifestyle and commitment standpoint all around … he was probably the hardest worker on the team at that time,” Perry said. “Realistically, he wasn’t ready to compete. He could’ve used that redshirt year. … But somebody like that deserves to have (the commitment) pay off, so hopefully he has a big year this year.”
Lofthouse left the Hawkeyes after his freshman season and spent two years on a Mormon mission in Zimbabwe. He took a bungee cord and a jump rope, lifted cinder blocks and went on morning runs, but his wrestling skills eroded and it took time to rebuild his body from a protein-short diet.
Iowa wrestling went through extensive change during the time he was away. Zalesky was fired after the 2006 season and replaced by Brands. The roster turned over and only five wrestlers who were on the team when Lofthouse left still were at Iowa when he returned.
“I could tell from the first day I walked in that there was a difference,” said Lofthouse, who redshirted in his first year after returning to the program. “The energy, the intensity, the focus, everything was so much more centralized and clear, and I loved that.”
Lofthouse might be the NCAA record holder for most wrestling teammates at one school. He’s had 90 teammates with the Hawkeyes, including seven sets of brothers. His biological nephew, Ethen, is Iowa’s starter at 174, although they’ve lived together for so long they consider themselves brothers.
“People say uncle and I automatically think big brother,” Ethen said. “To me, he’s my brother.”
Luke Lofthouse met his wife at Iowa. Allison Lofthouse is on the Iowa crew team. They met two years ago in a Spanish class, hit it off and got married a year later. Luke said having Allison around “helped put everything in order.”
Lofthouse compiled a 19-13 record last year filling in while starter Chad Beatty was injured. Now he’s getting his second opportunity as a full-time starter.
Lofthouse said sometimes he reflects on his time with the Hawkeyes and it seems like it’s gone by in a flash, but his teammates rarely miss a chance to remind him he’s been at Iowa for a while.
But no, Lofthouse hasn’t really been at Iowa forever.