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In his 15th and final season at the helm of the Northern Illinois University wrestling program, had coach Dave Grant is having fun.
"I'm really enjoying it," Grant said. "Just looking at one year, and not having to concern myself with other things that are not fun about this job. I can concentrate on the fun things, which are getting in the wrestling room and helping the guys. It's awesome."
While Grant is hoping the fun he is having rubs off on his team and their performances on the mat this season, he knows he is only half the equation.
"It's a two-way street," he said. "The more motivated athletes you have that are into it, the more fun it is to coach them. The happier you are, they can feel that a little bit. It's been a lot of fun. These guys are eager. They want to learn."
While Grant focuses on the 2010-11 campaign, a look back on his career at Northern Illinois reveals one of the most success programs at NIU.
Grant has built Huskie Wrestling into a program that consistently competes for the Mid-American Conference title as well as on the national stage. Since his arrival, he has mentored 31 wrestlers to 39 NCAA Championships appearances and amassed a 122-100-6 (.548) record.
One of the longest tenured coaches at Northern Illinois, Grant became the first Huskie wrestling coach to have multiple wrestlers earn multi All-American honors as Jeremy Goeden (1997 & 1998), Scott Owen (2002 & 2003) and Ben Heizer (2003 & 2004) each repeated as All-Americans during their careers and account for more than half of NIU's 11 All-Americans. In 2004, he guided Heizer to the school's first NCAA runner-up finish since 1973. Owen's and Heizer's All-American selections in 2003 marked the first time in school history two wrestlers were awarded the honor in the same year.
The 2008-09 squad saw a young group of Huskies make their mark on the program and continue its winning tradition. Sophomores Bryan Deutsch and Tristen DeShazer each advanced to the 2009 NCAA Championships. Deutsch took home the MAC title at 157 pounds, defeating the No. 1, No. 3 and No. 2 seeded wrestlers to win the championship. Izzy Montemayor became the first freshman in more than a decade to win 20 matches in a season. Last season, Deustch continued Grant's streak of sending a wrestler to Nationals to 14 when he earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships.
In addition to individual success, the Huskies have been just as accomplished as a team. NIU has won 10 meets or more in six of the last nine years and the Huskies are three years removed from posting an 11-7-0 season in 2007-08. NIU knocked off No. 5 Northwestern, 22-19 and Pat Castillo capped the season earning his 100th career victory at the 2008 NCAA Championships. Castillo was also named the MAC Tournament Most Outstanding Wrestler for the second time in his career. He and redshirt freshman Pat McLemore both won MAC titles, and were two of the three Huskies to compete at nationals.
Grant also sent four grapplers to the 2007 NCAA Tournament, with Castillo making his second and Johnny Galloway his third trip to nationals. As a team, the Huskies finished 6-4-1, and had four wrestlers ranked in the Intermat/NWCA/NWMA Top 20 in their respective weight classes.
Grant's 2005-06 team earned a national ranking as high as No. 23 on its way to a 10-5-2 dual meet record, marking the fifth consecutive season with 10 or more victories. In addition, the Huskies had two league champions and sent three to nationals after hosting the MAC Championships in DeKalb.
The 2004-05 season continued NIU's presence on the national stage as Northern Illinois sent four wrestlers to the NCAA Championships. That year, Northern Illinois picked up wins over Purdue University and several MAC rivals. The Huskies prospered individually as well with eight placewinners at the 2005 MAC Championships.
To say the Huskies made a splash in 2004 would be vastly understated. In addition to winning the program's 50th dual match in four years, NIU finished second in the Mid-American Conference in what was deemed a rebuilding year. The Huskies had a school-record nine wrestlers place at the MAC summit, including Heizer and Sam Hiatt, who brought home conference crowns for the second consecutive year. Heizer, Hiatt and Josh Wooton all represented the Huskies at the 2004 NCAA Championships and guided NIU to a 23rd-place national finish. Led by the efforts of Heizer, who was the NCAA runner-up at 184 pounds, NIU served notice to the rest of the country that a new program was ready to join the nation's elite.
In 2003, the Huskies topped its 14-win total from the previous year and tied a school-record with 15 victories. Grant's seventh season also saw a school record for scoring at the NCAA Championships (26.5 points), yet another top 25 finish nationally, and the school's first pair of NCAA All-Americans in the same season.
NIU's 29 wins during the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons is the top two-year win total in school history, while its 38 wins from 2001-04 tied Don Flavin's three-year mark of 38 from 1971-74.
In 2003, the Huskies were the MAC's top representative at the NCAA Championships. Led by All-Americans Owen and Heizer, the Huskies finished 22nd at the NCAA meet and saw its national ranking reach as high as 15 during the regular season. In addition to sharing the MAC regular season championship with Central Michigan, NIU boasted dual match wins over the 13th-ranked Chippewas, No. 5 Ohio State and No. 8 Missouri.
In 2001-02, the Huskies earned the third-best record in school history with a 14-4 mark, and finished second in the MAC. After the school's best showing at the Mid-American Conference Championships since 1985, Grant was recognized as the MAC Coach of the Year.
On the strength of three individual MAC champions, Northern Illinois sent four wrestlers to the NCAA Tournament that year. At the championships, Owen picked up the school's first All-America accolades in three years with his fifth-place showing.
Northern Illinois' successful run in this decade began in 2000-01 as the Huskies posted their first winning season since 1988-89 by compiling a 9-8-2 record. Combined with 2001-02, the Huskies had their first back-to-back winning campaigns since the 1981-82 and 1982-83 teams recorded 8-6 and 8-5 seasons, respectively. The program had come quite a long way from the 3-10 squad that Grant inherited in 1995.
As the top assistant for the University of Minnesota for 10 seasons, Grant played an integral role in luring what was tabbed as the nation's top recruiting classes for 1987 and 1995, as rated by Amateur Wrestling News (AWN). The latter Golden Gopher recruiting class included six AWN High School All-Americans, bringing his total of All-America signees to 23.
A native of Lexington, Ky., Grant helped guide the Golden Gophers to a regular spot in the nation's top 20 during his 10 years (1986-96) at the school, with four finishes in the top 10 between 1989 and 1993. In Grant's 10 seasons, Minnesota produced 14 wrestlers who earned a total of 23 All-America honors, along with five NCAA finalists and one national champion.
Grant carried that success into his first season at NIU. Although his team managed only a 4-9 dual-meet record, the Huskies sprinted to the finish line at crunch time. Northern Illinois placed fifth in the MAC Tournament, with mid-year transfer Jeremy Goeden winning the school's first league title since 1985.
Under Grant's tutelage, Goeden eventually placed eighth at the NCAA Championships, becoming the first Huskie All-America wrestler in almost a quarter of a century. In 1998, he added a second All-America honor with a seventh-place finish, becoming NIU's first two-time All-America grappler in more than three decades.
While at NIU, Grant has landed a series of heralded recruiting classes. The first group paid immediate dividends as Goeden won his first of two All-America accolades, while the 2001 class was named the 18th-best group in the country according to Intermat.com's ratings. Grant's efforts have brought 27 state high school champions into the NIU program.
"My goal is to bring in quality athletes with a strong work ethic," Grant said. "I want to help them develop and reach their full potential. The plan is to produce national champions and All-America wrestlers."
Grant's grapplers have also excelled in the classroom as the Huskies have been named to the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Top 30 All-Academic Wrestling Teams the last four years. With a 3.07 team grade point average, the 2008-09 Huskies ranked 11th in the country and were the top Mid-American Conference school.
In 2007-08, NIU finished 10th in the NWCA rankings, while Northern Illinois finished 16th in each of the two prior years. The criteria for the award was the cumulative GPA of the 10 wrestlers that competed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, as well as two alternates that wrestled in at least one varsity match.
As a collegiate student-athlete, Grant transferred to the University of Northern Iowa from the University of Kentucky after the Wildcats dropped their wrestling program. He gained All-America status for the Panthers in 1984 with an impressive 32-11-1 record and an eighth-place showing at the NCAA Championships at 158 pounds. He followed that successful campaign with a 20-4-1 mark at 167 pounds as a senior and completed his collegiate career with an 86-37-4 (.693) ledger.
Grant received his bachelor of arts degree in physical education and coaching from the University of Northern Iowa in 1985 and gained his master of education degree in kinesiology from Minnesota in 1997.
The 47-year-old Grant is married to the former Kris Langsdorf of Minneapolis, Minn.