ST. LOUIS, Mo. — The naysayers are at it again.
From the time Dylan Peters stepped onto Northern Iowa’s campus and into the Panther wrestling room, critics have said he wouldn’t be able to maintain his prep success at the college level.
Three trips to the national championships, two All-American performances and the fact the senior ranks third among all active Division I fall leaders with 38 still hasn’t gained him much respect.
Peters will enter his fourth NCAA Championships Thursday at the Scottrade Center as an unseeded wrestler. Another All-American performance this weekend will make the Denver native just the 10th UNI wrestler in history to earn three All-America awards at the Division I level.
Doubters will point to the fact Peters has wrestled only 14 times all year and lost six of those. But those who know Peters ask the critics one question: Do they really think Lehigh’s Darian Cruz wanted to draw the two-time All-American in his first match?
“His motivation is seeing people count him out,” said former UNI teammate and close friend Blaize Cabell. “Every year is always like, ‘Dylan Peters will be there, but there is this or that and we don’t see him doing this.’
“He doesn’t run around and talk about it vocally, but you can tell it in his eyes that I’m going to prove these guys wrong. If they say I can’t do this, then I’m going to go ahead and do it anyways.”
There is no doubting Peters’ toughness or determination. Last season, he tore his right ACL at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Open, took a 54-day break from competition and returned late in the season to not only qualify for the NCAA Championships, but finish sixth before undergoing surgery to repair the injury.
“You can’t count him out,” Cabell added. “He did it on one knee a year ago. I’m 100 percent certain he is going to step out there and put it all on the line.”
“Naysayers have always been a driving force,” Peters admitted. “People have told me, ‘You are never going to do this or never accomplish that.’ I was an All-American at Fargo, an All-American as a freshman.
“There are a lot of things pushing me and unseeded ... I look at it like a lot like it was last year. I’m in a good place entering this tournament.”
UNI head coach Doug Schwab looks at Peters being unseeded very practically.
“I like where he is at mentally,” Schwab said. “To me this becomes, you go win that first match and then you are the four seed.”
Schwab said Peters has never been fully healthy this senior season.
“The thing about Dylan is he is not going to be making excuses,” Schwab stated. “He isn’t going to say this is injured or that is injured or this hurts. It gets to a point where it doesn’t matter and it really can’t. He has proved you can do it and last year was a prime example.
“Even if he is not 100 percent, you are going to get a guy who is going to compete and put himself high on the stand.”
Sophomore Josh Alber said Peters drives each wrestler in the room to be better.
“He is the heart of our team,” Alber said. “He has had to dig deeper than anybody these last two years and it makes you look at yourself and say I can never feel sorry for myself.”
“It is not a secret that he’s a hard working guy, keeps his head down,” Cabell added. “If you didn’t know him, you would think he is shy and didn’t talk a lot. But behind the scenes he is a pretty active guy and talking to people.
“I think he does more with leadership than people give him credit for.”
Peters has had a stellar wrestling career.
He began as a kindergartner at the Cedar Valley Mat Club and didn’t win much. He got better as a first-grader and then continued to progress.
“I remember winning Pee-Wee state as a second-grader and knowing then that wrestling is for me,” Peters said.
After a standout youth career, Peters dominated at the prep level, posting a 199-1 record while reaching four state finals and winning championships in his final three seasons.
“That is tough,” said Peters, when asked if it haunts him more that he finished one win short of 200 or that one loss in the 103-pound finals as a freshman to Forest City’s Alex Spooner. “It would be nice to not have that loss. I think in the end that was a big driving force behind a lot of things that made me successful and kept making me work hard.”
After a redshirt freshman season where he went 20-5, Peters launched himself onto the national scene with a sixth-place finish in Oklahoma City in 2013 where he pushed eventual champion Jesse Delgado before dropping a semifinal match, 9-6.
Peters went 0-2 at the 2014 national championships, but he had what many consider one of the gutty performances in school history a year ago in New York City.
With 83 collegiate wins, Schwab said Peters will leave as one of UNI’s all-time greats.
“I couldn’t be more happy than to have a guy like Dylan Peters in our program, who has represented our program proudly for five years and will represent this program for years beyond,” Schwab said.
Peters said it is hard to believe it is almost over.
“Doug (Schwab) was just saying today that at times this year has gone fast and at times it has gone slow,” Peters said. “These last two years have been a longer, harder stretch for me for obvious reasons. But in the end, I’d say it has gone fast.
“My senior year has been 14 matches. That is all. It’s been a lot quicker than I would like, but I’ve got one more chance to prove ... I’m more than ready for this.”