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Tommy Rowlands looking strong in return to heavyweight division

There was a time when Tommy Rowlands was considered maybe a little too small for the heavyweight division.

But not anymore.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Rowlands, after spending a couple of years cutting down to 211.5 pounds, has bumped back up to the weight class where he is most comfortable.

And he is back in a weight class where he's enjoyed more than his share of success.

His run of success at heavyweight continued when he captured his first U.S. Nationals freestyle title at 120 kg/264.5 lbs. on April 7 in Las Vegas.

"I have finally grown into the weight class," Rowlands said. "I don't feel a size difference between any particular wrestler. I'm sure if I just stood there, I would notice that they are bigger, but I just try to keep moving."

With his win at the U.S. Nationals, and coupled with his 2005 gold medal at the World University Games, Rowlands has landed a spot in the best-of-3 final round for the U.S. World Team Trials on June 9-10 in Las Vegas. The rest of the heavyweights will meet in a challenge tournament earlier in the day on June 10 with the winner advancing to face Rowlands that evening in a best-of-3 series in the finals.

The U.S. World Team Trials champion advances to the World Championships on Sept. 18-23 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Rowlands, who turns 26 early next month, has compiled the type of resume of someone destined for greatness internationally.

He was a Junior World silver medalist and a World University Games champion. He won two NCAA titles at Ohio State. And he has placed second at the U.S. World Team Trials.

"Tommy's really put in the time and turned it up a notch," USA Wrestling National Freestyle Coach Kevin Jackson said. "His skill level is high and he has great athletic ability. He has really put in the time and worked hard. He's been tested and he's responded really well. He has a real bright future ahead of him."

Rowlands was one step from qualifying for the World Championships in 2002 when he finished second at the U.S. World Team Trials at heavyweight in St. Paul, Minn.

Slightly undersized at that point against bigger heavyweights like World silver medalist Kerry McCoy, Rowlands chose to drop down a weight class to 96 kg/211.5 pounds. He enjoyed some success in that class, finishing third in the 2005 U.S. World Team Trials before winning the 2005 World University Games in that division.

Making 211.5 pounds was not easy and Rowlands eventually elected to move back up to the heavyweight class of 120 kg/264.5 lbs. He was third at the 2006 U.S. World Team Trials at heavyweight before capturing the U.S. Nationals title on April 7 in Las Vegas.

Rowlands beat 2006 World Team Trials runner-up Steve Mocco 1-0, 3-0 in the semifinals of the U.S. Nationals before he downed two-time NCAA champion Cole Konrad 3-2, 1-0 in the finals. Konrad had upset World bronze medalist Tolly Thompson, who has made the last two World Teams, in the semifinal round.

The heavyweight class in the U.S. once again has strong depth with little separation found among the top four American wrestlers in the division.

"It's very deep, but that doesn't matter if we don't make an impact on the World level," Rowlands said of the heavyweight class. "Tolly has a World medal and the rest of us are still knocking on the door. Back in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, you had World medalists meeting in the semis of the U.S. Open. That's where I think the heavyweight class can be soon."

Rowlands was asked after his U.S. Nationals win about moving back up to heavyweight.

"I think I was a tweener where I was caught between weight classes," he said. "I have worked a lot on my strength training. I try to stay faster than the guys I wrestle and be highly technical."

Rowlands is very agile for a heavyweight and brings a full gas tank to the mat where he can push the pace for the full six minutes.

"The key for me is to train to the point where I honestly feel like nobody in my weight class works harder than me," he said. "If I feel that way, I am hard to beat."

Rowlands has placed in a number of overseas tournaments, including winning the Swiss Grand Prix this year, but he's also struggled at times.

"I actually lost 6 out of 10 matches in late January and early February, and it made me do some soul-searching," he said. "I have made the emotional commitment since then and I am seeing the results I have been working for."

Rowlands is a part of a young and energetic Ohio State coaching staff under head coach Tom Ryan, who just completed his first season in Columbus. The Buckeyes return nearly their entire starting lineup from the team that placed 10th in the 2007 NCAA Championships.

"Our staff is very excited about the future of this program," Rowlands said. "We will only settle for No. 1, and we hope to get there sooner than later."

Rowlands actually was in the running for the Ohio State head coaching position after his coach, Russ Hellickson, retired after the 2005-06 season.

"I wanted to be the head coach at Ohio State, and yes, I did interview," Rowlands said. "I don't plan on coaching anywhere but Ohio State. I grew up eight miles from Ohio Stadium and Ohio State is a part of me. Part of me wants to win the Olympics to show the Ohio wrestling community that it all can be done within our borders. If Ohio boys stay home, we win nationals, it's that simple."

Rowlands said he plans to wrestle at least through next year's Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

"I plan on winning the Beijing Olympics and retiring," he said, "but who knows?"

Rowlands is not the only Ohio State assistant coach who won a title at the 2007 U.S. Nationals. OSU volunteer assistant coach Joe Heskett, a fellow Ohio native, won U.S. Nationals at 74 kg/163 lbs. in freestyle wrestling. It was Heskett's first U.S. Nationals title as well.

"When both of us won at U.S. Nationals, knowing how much time we've put in and how many draining practices we've gone through, it was among the top feelings I've ever had in wrestling," Heskett said. "It was a lot of fun to share that experience with Tommy and it would be great if we could do it again at the (World Team) Trials. Tommy and I are real good friends. How can you not love Tommy Rowlands? He's one of the greatest individuals you will ever meet. He is a phenomenal person, he is very intelligent and he is very caring. He's just a great guy to be around."

Training in Columbus alongside a guy like Heskett has helped Rowlands.

"Joe and I have a great relationship," Rowlands said. "We both are aiming for the same thing. International wrestling is a lonely road. In college, you live with your teammates and best friends. It's nice to have at least one person around that shares the same dreams and lifestyle as me."
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