When you wrestle for the University of Iowa, you're a statewide celebrity.
You compete in front of sold-out arenas, win national championships and inspire the next generation through your play.
That describes current UNC wrestling associate head coach Tony Ramos' time at Iowa in the early 2010s. He went 120-14 as a Hawkeye, even earning an NCAA title in 2014.
When he wasn’t competing, Ramos attended youth wrestling events around the state. One of them, the Team Valley Wrestling camp, would have greater implications than even Ramos could imagine.
“I went to this camp and was greeted by a doctor I knew and two kids,” Ramos said. “(The doctor) told me, ‘These are my nephews and I’ve been teaching them the fundamentals. They think they’re going to be football players but I’m getting them ready to wrestle.’”
The doctor’s nephews were Carson and Cade Tenold, six-year-old twins who loved playing every sport imaginable.
“We played basketball, wrestled, played football and baseball,” Carson Tenold said.
But as the two grew up, their athletic skill seemed to trend in the direction their uncle predicted all along — toward wrestling. Like any young wrestlers, they admired those who squared off for Iowa on match days, namely Ramos.
“I’ve always looked up to Tony Ramos,” Carson Tenold said. “I still have a signed headgear from him that I wore in sixth grade.”
Fast forward to now, both Tenold twins have committed to wrestle at North Carolina. Starting next season, they will be coached by their childhood idol, Ramos.
Though a storybook ending, it wasn't always in the cards.
The twins attend Don Bosco High School, a small Catholic school in Gilbertville, Iowa. Despite the school's small size, it has an elite wrestling program largely thanks to its coaching staff, led by head coach and former two-time Division III all-American Chris Ortner.
Ortner and company helped the twins earn state title appearances from the jump. Cade finished fourth in the state finals as a high school first-year, and both brothers earned runners-up honors their sophomore year.
In the 2020 state final, Carson lost his match with less than 10 seconds remaining. The defeat left the young star heartbroken, but also hungry for more.
“It’s really frustrating when you’re right there and lose in double overtime,” he said. “After I got past it, I put my head down and got better.”
The summer-long work paid dividends the following season, as the Tenolds won their first 1A state titles as juniors. Cade Tenold won each dual by at least 15 points that tournament, earning technical falls all through the playoffs.
“I’m committed to a philosophy that goes along the lines of 'first you have to compete, then win and then dominate,'” Cade said. “By my junior year, I was dominating.”
Their hard work didn't stop at winning state titles. Eventually, college recruiters began to take notice.
The twins received offers from the likes of Iowa State and Wisconsin, and with powerhouse programs Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa all within state lines, plucking the highly-touted brothers out of the "Corn State" seemed almost impossible for North Carolina.
“Iowa has great wrestling all over the place,” Ramos said. “It’s hard to recruit because of all the opportunities in the state.”
But on Jan. 7, Cade Tenold announced his commitment to North Carolina. Three weeks later, his brother followed, causing some to wonder what exactly UNC did to secure the two.
To hear the brothers tell it, though, the decision was simple.
“Everyone there seemed very genuine and it was up front and honest,” Cade Tenold said.
As their high school careers come to an end, the Tenolds are looking forward to beginning their next chapter in Chapel Hill, with their sights set on taking UNC wrestling to even greater heights.
“We definitely have to switch it from a basketball to a wrestling school,” Carson said with a subtle laugh.
All jokes aside, both can agree on one thing when it comes to their collegiate aspirations — winning national championships.
And in Ramos' eyes, a commitment from his home state, one so steeped in wrestling, could be the keystone to a new era.
“I’ve tried every year to get a kid from Iowa to leave the state,” he said. “The state of Iowa is going to be watching how these two succeed here. It can open the door and create a pipeline to the state.”
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