Jacob Warner leaves Iowa men’s wrestling program on high note

The 197-pounder ended his career as one of three five-time All-Americans in program history.


Ayrton Breckenridge

No. 14 seeded 197-pound Iowa’s Jacob Warner warms up before session five of the NCAA Wrestling Championships at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. on Saturday, March 18, 2023.

Kenna Roering, Sports Reporter

Jacob Warner’s biggest goal as a young wrestler was to be a backup on a Division I squad.

Growing up in Tolono, Illinois, a town nearly 10 miles outside of Champaign with only about 3,500 people, Warner didn’t have many wrestling opportunities.

Fast forward to this year, and the 197-pounder finished his Iowa men’s wrestling career last week as one of three five-time All-Americans in program history, joining three-time national champion Spencer Lee and former 174-pounder Michael Kemerer.

“I don’t come from a club that’s amazing at wrestling,” Warner said after his fifth-place finish at the 2023 NCAA Championships. “I come from Champaign Kid’s Club. We’re not Young Guns or Izzy Style. If you would’ve told me as a kid that I would come here and be a five-time All-American, I wouldn’t have believed you. I’m extremely shocked, and I’m blessed and very thankful for the journey I’ve had.”

Warner has had his fair share of ups and downs throughout his career in the Black and Gold.

After falling in the 197-pound NCAA title match last season to Penn State’s Max Dean, Warner went to a dark place mentally.

“This year’s been really hard,” Warner said. “Since the finals last year, I’ve had a lot of self-doubt. Anybody that says they don’t have doubt is a liar, I think. Worry and nervousness and fear is a real thing.”

Adding to his mental hurdles, Warner caught the injury bug during the 2022-23 season, as an undisclosed injury prevented him from competing in Iowa’s dual meets against Sacred Heart, Northwestern, and Wisconsin.

When he returned to the mat, he suffered two losses in a row for the first time in his career. Warner lost to Dean, 2-0, in the Hawkeyes’ dual meet against the Nittany Lions on Jan. 27.

Then on Feb. 3, he suffered a buzzer-beating takedown to fall, 2-1, to Minnesota’s Michael Foy.

Warner bounced back with two victories against Michigan and Oklahoma State to end the regular season and went on to finish fifth at the 2023 Big Ten Championships.

In his final run at an NCAA title, Warner was booted to the consolation bracket after falling in the second round against Missouri’s Rocky Elam, 6-2.

Warner came back and won four matches the next day to stay in contention for third place but met Elam again in the consolation semifinals and lost, 3-1.

Warner had one last chance to end his collegiate career on a high note — and that’s exactly what he did. He went out with a 7-3 victory over Rider’s Ethan Laird for a fifth-place finish in the weight class.

“I was hurting Thursday night, I’m not going to lie,” Warner said of his second-round loss. “I didn’t want to wrestle. But I’m not a coward. I’ll go out there and put my heart and soul on the mat, and if I lose, I lose. But I just gave it my best effort, and it was enough to be on the podium and be satisfied. It feels like I went out on a good note.”

Warner said he had to have a lot of deep talks with himself and with Iowa coaches during the season to help him get back in the right mindset and stay motivated.

He added that he will forever cherish the relationships he’s made with his teammates and coaches who have seen him at his lowest but consistently place their love and trust in him.

Winning an NCAA team title in 2021 and making the finals match in 2022 were a couple of Warner’s favorite memories as a Hawkeye, he said. The adversity he overcame this season and the grit he showed at this year’s NCAA Tournament, in particular, is something he will hold in his heart forever. Warner said he is unsure of his future in the sport but knows he has a lot left in him.

“He’s a guy that wears his emotions on his sleeve, and he was high. That’s a good thing to leave here feeling like that,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said after Warner’s final match. “He has a lot of pride, whether it’s fifth or whatever, he has a lot of pride. Winning that match was huge for him and to him. Good for him.”