April 23, 2014
The Big Ten is celebrating 100 years of the Medal of Honor in 2014. Minnesota will announce its 2014 male and female winners on June 4. Until then, we will look back at some previous student-athletes who were bestowed with the Big Ten Medal of Honor, which is one of the most prestigious conference awards in college athletics. The Big Ten Medal of Honor was first awarded in 1915 to one student-athlete from the graduating class of each university who had “attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work.” It was the first award in intercollegiate athletics to demonstrate support for the educational emphasis placed on athletics and was acclaimed throughout the nation, and in particular by the NCAA “as one of the significant gestures yet made in college sports.”
Jayson Ness is the most decorated wrestler in program history and adds a wealth of experience from his All-American wrestling career as the volunteer assistant coach for the Golden Gophers. A national champion, who holds the school record for pins (73) and ranks third in career victories (148-15-0), was the sixth Gopher to earn four All-America laurels. During his undefeated senior season (31-0) he was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the NCAA Tournament en route to receiving the Dan Hodge Trophy as the nation's best wrestler. His undefeated national championship run was part of a 33-match winning streak. During the streak, Ness defeated 10 ranked opponents and notched 19 pins on the season. He was a two-time Big Ten champion and earned Big Ten Wrestler of the Year honors in 2010. He was also named to the Academic All-America and Academic All-Big Ten rosters while earning the Minnesota athletic department's Golden Goldys Male Athlete of the Year and Team MVP award. Ness is currently in his third season on the coaching staff of the University of Minnesota wrestling team.
GopherSports: You are one of 11 Gopher wrestlers to win the Big Ten Medal of Honor. What did that accomplishment mean to you when you received the award in 2010?
Jayson Ness: The Big Ten Medal of Honor is one of the best awards a student-athlete can receive. To be presented with the award you must do well both in your respective sport, but also in the classroom. To be honored for your dedication to both aspects means a lot.
GS: The Gopher Wrestling program is known for producing outstanding athletes as well as outstanding people. What life lessons did you learn in the program that you have carried on through your life?
JN: I learned about hard work and dedication. To succeed, you need to have a narrow focus. Wrestling has taught me about having a narrow focus and working harder than my competition. I have continued to focus on the task at hand and work harder than those around me.
GS: How would you rank receiving this award among your collegiate athletic career accomplishments?
JN: It is near the top. Winning an NCAA title is the best honor, mainly because it is something that you have earned and won. There is no debating whether you are the champion or not. This award could have gone to a number of other people, as the University of Minnesota produces many people who excel in their sport and in the classroom.
GS: What did the Gopher Wrestling program mean to you at the time and looking back on your time on the team, what does it mean to you now?
JN: The Gopher Wrestling program when I was competing meant a family, and it still does today. The team is a group of guys with a common goal and a common mindset. Everyone wants to win a national title. Even after graduating, I will always have something in common with those who wrestle on the team.
GS: As a volunteer assistant coach for the Gophers, how do you share the lessons you've learned through the program with the current student-athletes?
JN: I share my lessons with the team just as all coaches do. I tell stories and let them know about the importance of maintaining a great GPA and doing their absolute best on the wrestling mat.
GS: You are among many accomplished wrestlers and student-athletes as a Big Ten Medal of Honor recipient. What does that mean to you to be in an elite group of student-athletes at the University of Minnesota?
JN: It is incredible to look at the names of other wrestlers, and athletes, who have won this award. It is humbling to see all of the people who have won the award and then to see my name listed with them.
GS: The Big Ten Conference is known for top-notch wrestling powerhouses. What did it feel like to wrestle and succeed in one of the best wrestling atmospheres in the country?
JN: The Big Ten is a grind. Every team in the conference is competitive and every wrestler is very tough. Having to go through the Big Ten dual season, and then the Big Ten tournament to get to the NCAA tournament is tough, but it helps to have you prepared for the national tournament. Being in that atmosphere is a lot of fun and something I will always remember.
Words of wisdom from Jayson Ness... Remember, you only have four years to accomplish your goals in your sport. Make the most of those years and do everything you can to excel.
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