DES MOINES, Iowa - Matt McDonough's name adorns the wall with other top wrestlers from the University of Iowa.
He has the chance to cement his name with the all-time Hawkeye greats with one final competition.
The senior 125-pounder will attempt to become a four-time national finalist and the seventh third-time NCAA champion in school history at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, beginning Thursday at 11 a.m. Third-seeded McDonough (20-3) opens against Cleveland State's Ben Willeford (19-14).
McDonough earned a spot with the program's All-Americans, Big Ten and NCAA champions displayed in the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex.
"It's a chance to put an exclamation point on a, so far, exciting and enjoyable career," McDonough said. "It's been a heck of a lot of fun."
Instead of looking back at the past, the focus has been on the future and the upcoming three-day event. A temptation does exist for McDonough to evaluate how he fares with other Hawkeyes.
"A little bit," McDonough said. "It's really something that's hard to think about before it's over, because when you're thinking about it before it's over then you're creating negative thoughts or pressure for yourself in a way where maybe you think you need to be placed somewhere rather than just competing with yourself to do the very best you can."
McDonough has captured the affection of the Hawkeye fans since carving his niche in the program, cutting to 125 from 133 after his red-shirt season. McDonough, referred to as "Steel" by some fans, due to his dominant and unfazed approach on the mat, posting a 120-7 career mark before the final NCAA tournament. It's good for a .945 winning percentage, which is tied with three-time NCAA champion Barry Davis for sixth in school history for wrestlers with at least 95 decisions.
He is already one of Iowa's 16 two-time NCAA champions. He could become Iowa's first three-time national champion since Joe Williams won from 1996-98. An appearance in Saturday night's finals would place him in a group with Ed Banach, Duane Goldman and Lincoln McIlravy as the Hawkeyes' only four-time NCAA finalists.
"When you're talking about the history of this program the standards are high," Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. "Right now, we still have wrestling to do, a lot of wrestling to do, even though it's one tournament left in his career collegiately."
This season has been tougher than his previous seasons. He has as many regular season losses this season as he had in his first three as a Hawkeye. He has a career-low five pins and three major decisions this year. Last year, was the only time McDonough entered the national tournament as the No. 1 seed.
Brands said McDonough is on the right track, and that his drive has never been in question. It is time to go out and compete.
"We're not defending anything," Brands said. "We're not trying to rectify a disastrous season. We're just going out and wrestling a national tournament. We've done it three other times. It's ahead of you and your best wrestling can be ahead of you. That's how you have to think of every event."
His final national tournament is eerily similar to his freshman season. In 2010, McDonough was the third seed after losing in the finals of the Big Ten tournament before becoming one of the last of 18 Hawkeyes to claim a national title without a conference crown.
McDonough was beaten by Illinois' second-seeded Jesse Delgado (21-3), who has handed him two of his three losses this season and three of his seven career setbacks. Missouri's top-seeded and undefeated Alan Waters (29-0) blanked McDonough at the National Wrestling Coaches Association National Duals.
He recognizes the parallels between now and his freshman year and, similarly, he contend with everyone else striving for gold. McDonough said he feels "good" physically.
"I have a loss to the No. 2 seed and the No. 1 seed, and I know I'm more than capable of turning both of those matches in a different direction," McDonough said. "That's motivating. It's also motivating, knowing that you have that chance to meet them again and compete against them and to do yourself some justice by improving on previous performances."
Des Moines marks the end of the collegiate road, bringing his career full circle. Wells Fargo Arena was the site McDonough won the first of three Iowa state titles for Linn-Mar High School. McDonough is ready to leave it all on the mat, and conclude a storied career as a Hawkeye.
"It's that time of year," McDonough said. "It's that time to rise to the occasion. It's time to be a Saturday Nighter to go into that tournament with (no holds barred) and wrestle with nothing to lose because there is nothing to lose."