TRIPLE THREAT- Sanderson Brothers Wrestling
I believe high school and college wrestling is probably the toughest school sport. I really love it, so I’m psyched to present the Triple Threat Sanderson story--three brothers who are true elevens.<
By Dr. Greg Shepard
Published: Winter 2000
All three of the Sanderson brothers were on last year’s Iowa State team, which finished 2nd in the nation. Cody (133-lb.) was second in both his junior and senior year in the NCAA championships. Cole (157-lb.) came in second last year, and younger brother Cael (184-lb.) went 39-0 in his red-shirt freshman year and 39-0 last season. This earned him his NCAA National Championship title both years. Cael was also named the MVP both years at the national championships. His biggest honor came last June, when Cael received the Dan Hodge Award, signifying the best college wrestler in the nation. It is like the Heisman award for wrestling and Cael has two years left. These guys are good!
“We all started at the age of seven or eight,” remembered Cody. “During the season, we had one practice per day and one match on Saturday. There was no winner or loser. Each kid got a lollipop. We spent two years in that mode and then went into freestyle competition. My dad, Steve, coached us at all levels. He coached nearly 20 years, but is now an assistant high school principal at Wasatch High School where we all went.
“We all wrestled for the junior high school team. We went to the Western Regionals every year from the age of nine to fifteen. All three of us won the championship many times. We did pull-ups, dips and distance running. We would go on 2 to 3 mile runs plus sprints.”
Coach Sanderson organized state tournaments while his boys were in junior high. “We’d start at 8:00 in the morning and go until after midnight,” said Cody with a laugh. “There were hundreds of kids with 64-man brackets.” The triple threat Sanderson brothers all won three or four times each. The boys went to wrestling camps in the summer. One such camp was at Arizona State with Coach Bob Douglas, who is now their coach at Iowa State.
All three of the Sanderson boys played everything. They were on the soccer, swim, football and baseball teams in grade school. Cole was even a state champion tumbler. Cael played football all four years in high school as a strong safety and even ran the ball sometimes. Cody played football through his junior year, while Cole became the student body president. All three excelled in the classroom. Cael graduated with a 3.8 GPA, Cole with a 3.97 and Cody with a perfect 4.0 GPA, which made him valedictorian of his class.
Debbie Sanderson is a petite 5-3 mother. She did her share of encouraging and was always involved as much as anyone. Cody laughed, “I can remember the first time I beat my mom in wrestling. That was huge.” Apparently, Mrs. Sanderson was unfazed by this, as a fourth son was also brought into the world with wrestling skills. Cyler, who is now in the eighth grade, is following in his three older brothers footsteps.
The high school wrestling careers of the Sanderson family were made of championships. Cole finished 3rd in state in his freshman year and then 1st the next three years. Cody and Cael were Utah State champions all four years of high school.
“Drugs and alcohol were never an issue,” explained Cody, who spoke also for Cole and Cael. “We had our goals. We were never even tempted. Our friends never even did it. At Iowa State I was tested but it was never a big deal. They soon stopped and respected my position.”
Cole said respectfully, “Cody set a great example.” The boys got there first real exposure to drugs and alcohol on their international wrestling trips and when they were being recruited. Said all three, “Kids would do it because they could.” However, these three young men stayed faithful to their Mormon family values and just never did.
Cody’s first international trip came at age 16 to Turkey and then on to Hungary the following year. It was good to see the world,” said Cody, “and see kids from all over the country. I feel that to interact with different viewpoints and beliefs provides an enlightening benefit.”
Cole, at age 17, went to Poland to wrestle. “Poland was so poor,” Cole reflected. “In their grocery stores they had only a few items. I also had some interesting religious discussions.”
At age 16, Cael also went to Hungary. Said Cael, “The trip abroad was a great learning experience both for wrestling and for life.”
When it came time to choose a college, it was Cody who would lead the way. “I knew that I was basically making the decision for my family,” said Cody. I knew if I chose Iowa State that Cole and Cael would probably choose Iowa State also. My decision had to have their best interests in mind.
“I knew Coach Douglas had been the 1992 Olympic Coach. Iowa State is excellent in academics and wrestling is huge. Coach Douglas was also a former world champion, not once but four times. Iowa State was my first choice.”
Coach Douglas said, “I knew about Cody because he wrestled in our camps. Cody is dedicated and disciplined in whatever he does. All of his brothers have the positives necessary to be successful.” Cody came to ISU in the fall of 1995 and everything worked out like a dream come true for everyone. Coach Douglas got three amazing wrestlers and the three brothers have gotten or will get a great education along with glorious wrestling careers.
Iowa State has more than 25,000 students coming from all 50 states and 120 other nations. They offer 20 men’s and women’s intercollegiate sports. Iowa State has produced 28 Olympians, three of whom won gold medals. Glen Brand was the first Cyclone wrestler to win the gold and the legendary Dan Gable was the second, winning in the 1972 Munich Games. The rich history of Iowa Sate is legendary. They have won eight national team championships, plus two unofficial national titles in 1922 and 1923. Hilton Coliseum offers over 14,000 theater-style seats, creating an awesome setting for collegiate wrestling and the Sanderson brothers.
Ed Banach, also a wrestling gold medalist in the Los Angeles Olympics from the University of Iowa, is now the Student-Athlete Counselor in charge of academics. He states, “Our student-athletes need to be organized, manage their time well and have a career focus.” Banach can proudly point to his Cyclone Academic All-Americans. In 1999, there were five, the most of any team in the country. The Sandersons accounted for three of those and last season they repeated again as Academic All-Americans!
The strength and conditioning program at Iowa State wrestling was headed by Jeff Reinardy, who just recently went to Winona State. The Sandersons were impressed with the workouts. “In August, we start with a stadium workout. A lot of people puke. Then we go into plyometrics, stretching, lunges, pushups and wrestling drills. We finish up with a 2-mile run back to the football stadium where we do buddy carries uphill three or four times. And, that’s only the half of it,” they said with a chuckle.
Cael remarked, “I saw a huge increase in leg strength.” He lifted three times per week and did all-the-way-down squats, front squats, benches, snatches, cleans, rope climb and a lot of pulling exercises. After just one year of training as a redshirt, Cael became Iowa State’s first freshman national champion, the first freshman to be named Most Outstanding Wrestler in the NCAA Championships, ISU Male Athlete of the Year and the South Korea National Invitation Wrestling Tournament Champion.
“Most of our smaller wrestlers,” said Cody, “when they come to college, are inexperienced in weights. All I really did was circuit training. Almost every wrestler red-shirts, like the three of us, in the first year.”
Cody has proven himself to be excellent in Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling. He is thinking about continuing on with wrestling now that he has graduated but it will be tough. “I am looking at medical school and I’m married now, so I have greater responsibilities.”
Cole has also done well in Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling. He