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Jayson Ness, 2010 Hodge Trophy winner
By Bryan Van Kley, WIN Magazine Publisher
After a perfect senior season, Minnesota national champion Jayson Ness has now added wrestling’s top award to his resume, the 2010 Dan Hodge Trophy.
Ness finished the year 31-0, won the NCAA title and was named the Outstanding Wrestler of the NCAA tournament.
Long-time Minnesota coach J Robinson used phrases like “flawless and the model kid in the world” to describe the soft-spoken, lanky Ness who is known for his relentlessness on the mat.
“You couldn’t pick a better kid. We’ve all got flaws. I’m not sure Jayson Ness has a lot of flaws. As coaches we tend to look at all the athletic components, but a lot of times it goes beyond that. He’s got the whole package,” Robinson said.
“If you get one of those in a lifetime, you’re pretty lucky (as a coach),” he added.
Ness said the Hodge Trophy has been something he’s wanted to win, but wasn’t his focus this year.
“My goal was to be a national champion and to pin as many people as possible. Getting all these extra awards to go along with it was an extra honor to get,” he said.
Ness pinned 19 of 31 opponents for a stingy pinning percentage of 61 percent, including 13 of his first 14 opponents. Sixteen of the 19 pins came in the first period for the Bloomington, Minnesota native.
The two runner-ups for this year’s Hodge Trophy were Iowa State’s Jake Varner and Iowa’s Jay Borschel, champs at 197 and 174 respectively. Varner won his second straight national title, finishing 32-0. Borschel capped a perfect 37-0 season with his first NCAA crown.
But the reason Ness was selected over Varner and Borschel was the number of pins he had, nearly doubling both his counterparts. Varner and Borschel both finished the year with 10 apiece. Borschel’s pinning percentage was 27 percent, Varner’s 31 percent.
Varner has had better past credentials than Ness as a four-time finalist, but the award is a single-season award. Past credentials are used in tiebreaker situations where pin numbers, for example, are nearly equal.
Ness, a four-time All-American, capped off a career that saw previous finishes of fifth (2007), second (2008) and third (2009) at the NCAAs. He was at 125 his first two seasons.
When asked about his approach to pinning, Ness said it’s a matter of “imposing your will” on your opponent.
“In wrestling, both guys want to do something. Nobody wants to get pinned. To be able to put a guy there you really have to exert a lot of energy and effort. That’s something that J has always preached,” Ness said.
Robinson said a big part of Ness’s success is his faith and how grounded he is in his approach to life, family and wrestling. Ness meets twice a week with a mentor, Minnesota Vikings’ chaplain Tom Lamphere.
The NFL chaplain was a former University of Minnesota wrestler. Lamphere also meets with Gophers Zach Sanders and Mike Thorn during one of the sessions, and encourages and pushes the trio to grow in their faith and dependence in God, both on the mat and in life.
“It really helps me keep everything in perspective. It helps me stay focused on my goals,” Ness said. “All I can give is 100 percent effort every match. If I give 100 percent effort, God is going to be happy with me so I can be happy with myself.
“He gave me the gifts and abilities to be able to wrestle. If I go out and do it for Him, that’s what He’s given them to me for. The more I go and speak about that, that’s what He wants.”
The former two-time state champ defeated Iowa’s Dan Dennis, 6-4, in the closing seconds of the final. The Gopher then ran over to the side of the stands, and jumped up to his dad Jay. Leaning over the railing, the elder Ness caught his son in his arms and pulled him up and over the railing for the celebratory father-son hug. The two embraced eight to nine feet over floor level, with many fans in the Qwest center on their feet, still applauding Ness’s come-from-behind win.
Robinson said a good example of what type of person Ness is happens after a number of their afternoon practices. He is often times seen spending time with a young boy named Brooks. The young fan is currently undergoing cancer treatments and likes to come to Gopher practices.
“He has time for everybody,” Robinson said.
Ness doesn’t know what the future holds for him. He’s currently a high school student teacher and has about a year left before he has his master’s degree. He may keep competing in freestyle, but it depends on how his body holds up.
“I need to see where I’ll best be able to serve in my life. I’ve always wanted to wrestle in the Olympics. But, I’ll see if my body can hold up and if that’s where God wants me to go,” he said.
The trophy’s namesake was a prolific pinner at the University of Oklahoma in the mid-1950s. His spotless 46-0 record over three years included 36 pins, three NCAA titles and two OW awards. He won an Olympic silver medal, and has become one of the great ambassadors for the sport.
The Dan Hodge Trophy was created in 1995 by Mike Chapman, founder of WIN Magazine. The award winner is selected by a committee the week following the NCAA Championships and is announced through WIN Magazine’s March Nationals Issue.
For more information on the Dan Hodge Trophy and past winners of the award, go to DanHodgeTrophy.com. Previous winners and award criteria are listed on the site.