Redshirt freshman Austin Gomez entered this season with expectations of solidifying Iowa State's 133-pound spot.
The Carol Stream, Illinois, native has accomplished that so far, building a 6-1 dual record, but he's also garnered a leadership role early on in his college career.
"It's just work ethic," said redshirt sophomore 149-pounder Jarrett Degen. "You've got a bunch of these young kids; they've got that high, high work ethic that we struggled to see a little while ago.
"They bring it. They work really hard, especially [Marcus] Coleman, Austin Gomez, Ryan Leisure. They all bring it."
On top of leading the team and compiling a solid record, Gomez faced plenty of challenges in the first half of the season. Gomez faced five ranked opponents, according to InterMat, going 4-1 with the lone loss coming from No. 2 Daton Fix of Oklahoma State.
Despite the stellar start, Gomez — like every athlete — still has some flaws. One of the most notable negatives during Gomez's time at Iowa State has been slow starts and poor first periods.
Over the summer, Gomez spent time competing for a place on the United State Junior World Team at 61 kilograms.
To reserve his spot, Gomez needed to win two of three matches against now-Cornell University freshman Vitali Arujau. Arujau built an 8-0 lead in the first match, but Gomez rattled off 11-straight points, winning 11-8.
He finished the series with a 15-4 win, securing a position on the junior world team (he later withdrew due to a knee injury).
About 11 months earlier, Arujau and Gomez squared off at The Challenge Tournament — part of the Junior World Team Trials process. Gomez fell behind 7-2 before exploding for a 14-7 win.
The slow starts carried over to this season at points, as well. Gomez started his first periods strong near the beginning of the season, earning a first-period technical fall against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Against Iowa, Gomez and No. 8 Austin DeSanto completed the first period knotted at three before Gomez picked up the win, and against Ohio, Gomez delivered a 2-0 lead after one period.
When the Southern Scuffle rolled around, a slow start appeared. No. 13 Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State tallied an 8-3 lead, but Gomez bailed himself out with a second-period pin.
"Get to my offense right away," Gomez said about improving early in matches after returning from the tournament. "Don't wait and relax, just go, go, go. Make the guy feel me right away."
The first period improved in the first two Big 12 duals.
Gomez started 4-1 over North Dakota State's No. 16 Cameron Sykora in an 8-6 win. Against Fresno State, Gomez stringed together a 10-1 lead after one period.
On Iowa State's latest road trip to Rider and West Virginia, Gomez reverted back to falling behind early.
At Rider, Anthony Cefolo upset Gomez, earning a pin in 2:56 right before the buzzer sounded. Gomez bounced back against West Virginia's No. 15 Matthew Schmitt with a decision, but Gomez trailed 2-1 after the first period.
"That's been a point of focus with him because obviously you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that he's had some tough first periods this year," said coach Kevin Dresser before the road trip. "Being ready to go is really important for him because I think he has the biggest gas tank in the nation at 133 and maybe everywhere.
"But if you put yourself in a big enough hole against a tough enough guy, you can't dig out. Really, really being stingy, I think that's [sic] the secret for Austin Gomez to have a great finish this year is the first period."
Gomez showcases enough talent to recover against most opponents, but come March, he'll be playing with fire if he trails anyone in the loaded 133-pound weight.