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AYALA TO IOWA OFFICIAL

As expected, coveted Fort Dodge wrestler signs with Brands’ Hawkeyes

Submitted photo Drake Ayala of Fort Dodge signed his national letter of intent with the University of Iowa on Wednesday at Fort Dodge Senior High. Ayala is pictured here with his mother, Angie; father, Sam; and brothers, Dru and Knox.

To some, signing day is a big deal. It’s the culmination of a tightly-contested recruiting process, filled with twists, turns and uncertainty — often until the very last minute.

There was no such theater when Drake Ayala put pen to paper and made his commitment to the University of Iowa official on Wednesday at Fort Dodge Senior High. Forget the pomp and circumstance and dismiss the drama: Fort Dodge’s coveted state champion is a Hawkeye through and through.

“It was a cool moment, but it didn’t feel any different,” Ayala said. “It’s not like there was going to be a surprise twist or anything. When I gave my word (last March), it was 100 percent from (that day forward). I wasn’t going to change my mind, second-guess anything or back out. That was what (the recruiting process) was for: to decide where I wanted to go.

“I’m a Hawk.”

Ayala insisted there wasn’t one particular moment or discussion that convinced him to choose Iowa over Iowa State, Ohio State, North Carolina, Michigan and Minnesota — along with a host of other programs.

“Nothing specifically — just how I felt after all of the visits and conversations and taking a step back,” said Ayala, the country’s top-rated competitor at 126 pounds. “I just clicked with all of the wrestlers and the coaching staff.

“I’m obviously going to have a lot of work to do (beginning next fall), but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’m not worried about (the pressures and expectations)…everything will take care of itself when I get there and put in the time. It’s all about having the right attitude and the right mindset, and doing what the coaches tell me to do. Trusting myself and the system.”

Iowa’s social media account released a congratulatory message on Wednesday, projecting Ayala at 133 or 141 pounds. Ayala said “nothing is set in stone there,” and “we’ll just have to see how it goes.”

“We’ll figure that out down the road,” Ayala said. “I don’t know (which weight) I’ll end up at. There are a lot of moving parts to that (decision).”

The moment on Wednesday may have been a mere formality, but Ayala was still in a reflective mood afterward. His final high school season is right around the corner, with practice scheduled to start next week. A recent resurgence of COVID-19 cases leaves a cloud of uncertainty over the entire 2020-21 winter sports campaign, though.

“I’m just trying to cherish the moments as they come from here on out,” said Ayala, who has won 91 consecutive matches as a Dodger. “This is my last year, and I’m keeping things as simple as possible. Appreciating every opportunity we get. It’s my (final time) competing with by best friends, and the only (prep season) I’ll get with my brother (Dru, a freshman at FDSH). It doesn’t get much better than that.”

An academic all-state honoree who carries a 3.94 overall grade point average, Ayala is a consensus Top-10 national recruit in the Class of 2021. Last month, Ayala defeated the nation’s top-rated pound-for-pound wrestler, Richard Figueroa, in Texas. Three weeks later, he captured a Super 32 Challenge title in Myrtle Beach at 126 pounds — becoming just the second Iowan ever to do so.

Ayala was joined on Wednesday by his father, Sam; mother, Angie; and brothers, Dru and Knox.

“My family’s done everything for me,” Ayala said. “All of the long car rides to practice and tournaments and everything else for basically (the last decade)…it’s just been crazy. A ton of money and a ton of time. It’s amazing and I can’t even begin to thank them enough.”

Ayala is a two-time Fargo Nationals champion and a USA Wrestling Folkstyle gold medalist as well. He was a perfect 48-0 in 2020 for the Dodgers, earning Dan Gable Mr. Wrestler of the Year honors in Iowa.

Ayala is 136-2 in his career at FDSH.

The Dodgers’ first meet is scheduled for Dec. 3 at Southeast Polk.

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