DANVILLE – The KMAC’s heavyweight champion will head to Columbus this weekend in search of state gold.
Danville senior Dylan Wilson (285) became the third wrestler in school history to qualify for the state tournament last weekend, when he placed second at districts. Wilson began wrestling in seventh grade and had qualified for districts every year in high school, but had yet to make it out.
This year, his last as a wrestler, he finally broke through.
“It was a very good feeling,” Wilson said Thursday morning, waiting to parade down the hall before leaving for Columbus. “It was probably the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
Wilson (18-3) will take on Ashtabula St. John freshman Ryan Elrod (24-8) in the first round. The OHSAA Div. III state tournament, held at The Schottenstein Center, will begin at 3 p.m. Thursday. The tournament will run through Saturday, when champions in each weight class will be crowned. The top 16 wrestlers in the state in each weight class (by division) qualify for the state tournament.
Wilson is coming off a strong performance at districts, where he won his first three matches (twice by pinfall) before falling to Nelsonville-York’s Donovan McCollister (35-3) in the finals. The Blue Devil secured a sectional title on Feb. 23, as he pinned Liberty Union’s Brenden Maclean (22-15) in 5:26 to take the heavyweight trophy. He also won the KMAC title by going 3-0 with two pins.
He’s done all this during a year when Danville has struggled for numbers; the Blue Devils began the season with 14 wrestlers on the roster, but that number dropped to six by the end of the year.
Coach Randy Brady hopes that Wilson’s state run will prompt more wrestlers to join next year. In addition, Wilson plans to become a member of the coaching staff after he graduates.
“We’re hoping it helps build the program, having the third state qualifier from Danville. We’re hoping that gets our program stronger and more kids come into the program,” Brady said. “Because it’s not an easy sport – if it was, we’d have a room full of them. And just his mindset, with coming back (and) coaching, is a very good mindset for our program.”
Brady and Wilson have traveled great lengths to find practice competition for the senior over the last few weeks. Programs like Mount Vernon, Marysville and Delaware Hayes have allowed Wilson to compete with their wrestlers for postseason preparation.
“Every coach, when you get to this level, will step in and help each other,” Brady noted.
Brady said Wilson’s biggest strength is “his perseverance, owning the match.” At six-feet tall, Wilson is often shorter than his opponents, which gives him less room (gauged by arm length) to make moves. Instead, he must get closer and move quicker to set up his shots.
Above all, Brady raved about Wilson’s wrestling IQ. He believes the senior’s ability to think on his feet sets him apart.
“Dylan is one of the most (well-rounded) wrestlers, and when try to put in a new move, it doesn’t take him long to pick it up,” Brady said. “He just works well with us, works well with the youth that comes into the program. He’s just an outstanding athlete.”
Wilson also benefits from four years of high school football, where he played offensive and defensive line for the Blue Devils. He was named first-team all-district for his defensive efforts last fall, when he served as one of the team’s leading tacklers.
“In football and wrestling, your best wrestlers are your best tacklers,” Brady said.
Football has helped Wilson with wrestling because it’s taught him about leverage and using his physical strength efficiently, he said. Conversely, wrestling has helped him with football because it’s given him the endurance, mental strength and hip flexibility to outperform his opponents late in games.
Wilson made two trips to the state semifinals during his high school football career. Now, he will look to make a similar run as a wrestler. Brady said the key for Wilson this weekend will be his ability to dictate the pace of the match.
“Wear the big guy out as fast as you can and get him pinned,” Brady said. “That’s our key focus.”
It may be Wilson’s first trip to state, but he has high expectations. He wants to place, he said, “but I’ve gotta take it one match at a time and can’t get too ahead of myself.”
As expected, the Village of Danville has rallied around Wilson this week. He talked glowingly about all the love he’s received, from the ‘good-lucks’ to the high-fives, and Brady told him to embrace it all.
“To get to state is phenomenal,” the coach said. “I said, ‘Just take it in. Just absorb it because you’ll never get that moment back.’”
On Thursday afternoon, Wilson will compete in front of thousands. The Schottenstein Center holds 18,000, and by the time the tournament gets rolling, it typically fills to capacity.
But the senior from Danville isn’t worried. He knows his village – 1,000 strong – will have his back.
“It’s gonna be different but I’m going to try to view it as any other tournament,” Wilson said. “There’s always a lot of noise but it’s never really bothered me once the whistle blows. Once the whistle blows it’s just me and him.”