T.J. Williams still owns the best career record in Iowa wrestling history, but his 98 victories aren’t as beneficial these days as his only loss.
The two-time NCAA champion coaches youth wrestlers in the Peoria, Ill., area and spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Lincoln College. Inevitably, young wrestlers want to know how Williams suffered his only loss at Iowa — a 3-1 overtime defeat against Boise State’s Larry Quisel in the 2000 NCAA quarterfinals at 157 pounds.
“Every time I talk to kids I tell them he didn’t beat me, I beat myself, and that means I didn’t go out there and execute my shots and stay on the attack like I always did,” he said. “When you go out there and get off track and do something you’re not used to doing, bad things happen.”
Williams said the lessons he learned from that defeat 12 years ago gave him an ability to relate better with his pupils now. He currently works with a couple dozen wrestlers ranging from elementary to high schools, including Dylan Reel, a three-time Illinois state champion who signed with Minnesota.
“What I really love is watching these kids grow, watching them come in with two left feet and leaving the practice room after hitting nice, crisp shots, turning guys, escaping, the whole nine yards, that’s what I like most about helping kids,” he said.
Williams moved to the Peoria area in 2008, four years after an abrupt end to his competitive career. He was training for freestyle in 2004 when he contracted a staph infection in his chest.
“I don’t know how I got it, where I got it, but it almost killed me,” Williams said. “I really felt like I was dying.”
Williams said doctors told him they might need to remove his collarbone. They scraped part of it away during surgery.Williams never competed again.
“In the back of my mind, I wanted to compete — I still feel that way,” Williams said. “Right now it would be tough. I’m married, I’ve got a family and for me to go back and compete, it would mean I’d have to be selfish. I’d be worried about what T.J. Williams could do to get better today and the following day. It would be me, me, me, me, and I don’t see myself being that way right now.