Sometimes the dream can become the reality.
Ask Serra wrestler Charles Matthews, who has received preferred walk-on status at one of the most prestigious wrestling schools in the nation — University of Iowa.
It came as a shock to not only Matthews, but also Serra head coach Mike Klobuchar, who found out at the conclusion of the high school season in early March.
“I had been working with some other college coaches and other schools,” Klobuchar said. “Then he showed me the text (from Iowa assistant coach Ryan Morningstar). I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’
“He obviously made an impression when he was out there last summer.”
Matthews, who lives in San Mateo but is a Philadelphia native, is a four-year varsity wrestler for the Padres, having won three straight West Catholic Athletic League, including the 132-pound title this season. He had one championship, finished second four other times and finished sixth in the prestigious Mid Cals regular-season tournaments. He has two Central Coast Section podium finishes — placing sixth this past season and fourth in 2019. He was third-ranked in the section at 132 by CCSrank.com.
As good as Matthews has been on the mat, he’s been even better in the classroom. He’s made the Serra dean’s list every semester all four years, carries a 4.1 GPA and is a member of the National Honor Society.
He’s accomplished all this while also serving as class president the last three years at Serra.
“ I refer to myself as an ‘academic athlete,’” Matthews said. “I’m an academic who can wrestle.”He has a full academic scholarship to Iowa and has already been admitted to the Tippie School of Business.
Iowa is one of the biggest wrestling programs in the nation. It rose to prominence under the leadership of longtime coach Dan Gable, who turned the Hawkeyes into a national power. Gable-led teams won 17 straight Big 10 Conference tournament titles and won nine NCAA national championships in row, from 1978 to 1986. All told, Iowa has won 23 national titles, the last coming in 2010. This year’s team featured Spencer Lee, who was a three-time NCAA and world champion and who was named the Sullivan Award winner for best amateur athlete in the nation.
Matthews used both his brawn and his brains to get noticed by the Iowa coaching staff during a pair of camps at Iowa last summer. During his first two-week camp, he went up to the Hawkeyes’ 133-pound wrestler, Austin DeSanto, and challenged him to a match.
It went about as well as you think it went.
“I just wanted to see what the experience was like,” Matthews said. “It was painful. He got a hold of me and wouldn’t let go. He went for the takedown and I was on my back.
“I knew it was going to be hard, but I always try to have that confidence. ‘I can beat this guy.’ Was I right? No, but you’re not going to be 100% right all the time.”
But Matthews didn’t look at the camp as an opportunity to make a name for himself with the Iowa coaching staff. He was looking to work as hard as he could and learn moves that he could incorporate into his senior season at Serra.
“I wasn’t working hard to catch the coaches’ eye,” Matthews said. “At that moment, I was focused on being the best I could be for the season.”
Funny how hard work stands out, anyway. He certainly caught the eye of Iowa head coach Tom Brands, who called Matthews to the mat to demonstrate a new move. At the end of camp, Matthews had a couple hours to kill before his flight and he ended up in a best-of-3 takedown series with Brands. He attended a second Iowa camp a week later.
If Matthews accomplished nothing else, he was satisfied just learning and training with some of the best wrestlers, literally, in the world.
“I was just trying to train the best I could,” Matthews said. “What I gained [from those camps] in a day was … outrageous.”
Matthews said the high school season came around and he didn’t hear from Iowa until his mother told him following his last dual meet of the regular season that assistant coach Morningstar had contacted her.
“So I talked to Coach Morningstar and he’s like, ‘Hey, we’re serious about you. We want to get you out here to make you a Hawkeye,’” Matthews said. “Right now, I’m just keeping in contact, making sure I’m doing everything to be there from Day 1.
“I’m on the team. Have a spot on the roster. … That was my first big sigh of relief.
“I think [what drew the coaches to me is] the work ethic I showed at camp and continuing that behavior. Showing up and working hard.”
Klobuchar, who has sent five Serra wrestlers to Division I colleges, believes Matthews had a chance not many wrestlers get.
“I think he has a chance to (eventually) crack the lineup,” Klobuchar said. “But even if you don’t, just being in that (wrestling) room is an opportunity of a lifetime.”