East Mills Wrestling Coach Claude Lang had the unfortunate pleasure of grappling with his star heavyweight David Howell at a practice shortly before the conclusion of the winter break.
Lang was the lone coach on the staff whose weight class was comparable to the Wolverines’ 285 pound Howell.
“He had been building up all his aggression for that one day and it was not a fun practice for myself,” Lang said of his senior heavyweight. “He literally beat me up and it was not fun.”
Howell has used that same built up aggression from missing the first half of the wrestling season following an ankle injury suffered in football season to cruise to 16-0 this season on the mat since the holiday break.
“I’m a little out of shape still, but hopefully another week or two and I should be 100 percent,” Howell said.
Howell broke a bone in his left ankle during the Oct. 18 district football game at Griswold. His first meet back wrestling for the Wolverines was Jan. 9.
“My thought at first was, I was really ticked off,” Howell said. “I really wanted to play in the playoffs, but after football was over, I wanted it to heal pretty quick so I can get back to wrestling.”
There was very little ligament damage, which allowed Howell to return sooner than expected. Surgery was still required, however. Howell received a plate and seven screws on the outer side of his left ankle.
“They tried to get me into surgery as fast as I could so I could get ready to wrestle,” Howell said.
The surgery on Howell’s ankle was done within weeks of the injury. Doctors informed Howell that the recovery time would be eight to 10 weeks.
Howell informed Lang that the best-case scenario would be to start wrestling again around New Years.
“He started the season not being able to wrestle,” Lang said. “He was able to do some stuff on the mat, like he couldn’t do anything with his leg at practice, it was hard.”
During Howell’s time off the mat, Lang had the senior do workouts that avoided the use of legs, including a lot of upper body work. Keeping him from actually wrestling wasn’t easy.
“He was so determined to get on the mat,” Lang said.
Being on the shelf was tough for Howell. However, he used the motivation to work hard and get ready to go once the January season began.
“I hate sitting and watching everybody work with me doing nothing,” Howell said.
Howell got back to action in early January with partial practices. His first full practice was Jan. 7, two days before wrestling in his first meet of the season.
The season debut for Howell took place in Red Oak as part of a quadrangular against Red Oak, Glenwood and Riverside.
“I looked at the competition; I knew he had three opponents that he wouldn’t have to push his leg to the limit to beat,” Lang said. “If he had an extremely tough opponent that first night, I probably would have put my other heavyweight out there, just to make sure.”
Going into the meet, Howell said he had some nerves, but not more than usual.
“I was just worried how my ankle was going to hold up and how long I was going to last before I was tired,” he said.
Any concerns of how the ankle would hold up or how Howell would deal with fatigue was quickly dispelled. Howell pinned all three of his opponents at the Red Oak meet. Howell pinned Collin Ransom of Glenwood in 1:40, then followed that up with pins of Coy Maher of Riverside in 38 seconds and c Keaton Kephart of Red Oak in 1:07.
“It was quite a relief after that first match,” Howell said. “At the next one, I was pumped and ready to go.”
Howell hit the ground running since his first meet back. Of the 16 wins Howell had leading up to the meet at Bedford last week, 11 of those came via pin and just one match lasted longer than the first round.
The strong start continued for Howell at the Griswold Duals Jan. 18 as he won all four matches, three via pinfall and one forfeit.
“He pushes himself extremely hard,” Lang said. “Whatever he expects out of himself, he can literally do against anyone in the state.”
As the postseason draws near, Howell has one big goal in mind and that’s making a trip to Des Moines.
Howell just missed the opportunity last season as a junior to go to state despite winning 46 matches a year ago. His district semifinal loss to Garrett Johnson of Panorama kept Howell from the state tournament. It was a different story Howell’s sophomore year in 2012 as he made his first state appeared but just missed out on placing in the top eight.
“He qualifies as a sophomore and was one match away from a medal,” Lang said. “Last year as a junior, you could tell he was disappointed because he didn’t get there.”
Howell will wrestle for a trip to state Feb. 15.