One of the longest running jokes in education goes something like this: “Those who cannot do, teach.”
Fortunately for the Golden Gopher wrestling team, Jayson Ness can do both.
Although he is just a sophomore and beginning his third full season with the team (after being redshirted in 2005-06), Minnesota’s returning All-American at 125 pounds has morphed into a bona fide leader both on and off the mat. Not only is Ness one of the Golden Gophers’ most exciting athletes he enters Thursday’s meet with Nebraska a perfect 10-0 on the season, including eight pins he also displays a passion for passing his knowledge of the sport on to those around him.
“Even though he’s only a sophomore, Jayson is a guy that you can see is already taking a leadership role,” said assistant coach Joe Russell about Ness, currently ranked fourth nationally at 125 pounds. “He’s someone we’re going to build a team around he’s already doing a great job with the young guys on the team. He’s already taken Zach Sanders, a big-time recruit (out of Wabasha, Minn.), under his wing.”
A native of Bloomington, Minn. and a 2005 graduate of Bloomington-Kennedy High School (the alma mater of current Gopher coaches Marty and Gordy Morgan), Ness has been entrenched in the Minnesota wrestling community since he was a young child. In high school, he was a two-time Minnesota state champion and earned national championships at the Cadet Freestyle and Junior Greco-Roman levels. One of the top recruits in the country three years ago, Ness delivered on his potential in a big way last year for the national champion Golden Gophers. He went 40-5 overall (20-1 in dual meets), took fifth place at nationals and was named the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year.
But for almost as long as Ness has been dominating the competition, he has been trying to educate others about the sport he loves. Ness actually began his coaching career in seventh grade, heading up multiple youth teams in the ensuing years and even coaching his high school freestyle team as a senior. Currently, the technical education major assists at the Gopher Wrestling Academy and continues to make appearances at clinics around the state of Minnesota.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time, and it’s something that I’ve always enjoyed doing,” said Ness, who hopes to become a high school teacher and wrestling coach after graduation. “I always try to help people out; that’s kind of the way I am. I always tried to help everybody along in high school and it’s something I try to do here (at Minnesota) too.”
Described as a “student of the sport” by the Gopher staff, Ness possesses an even-keeled and likeable personality that has helped make him a fan-favorite in the Minnesota wrestling community. It’s a trait that promises serve him well if he someday enters the coaching fraternity.
“When you see (Jayson) out in the wrestling community, everybody loves him,” said Russell. “He’s a kid that grew up around the mats in the state of Minnesota. Since he was a little kid he’s been at every club practice and every little kids’ tournament he could go to. The wrestling community kind of flocks to him, from the little kids who want to be like Jayson Ness to the older people who grew up loving this little kid who was around wrestling all the time.
“From a coach’s perspective, it’s pretty exciting when you have a guy who not only works his butt off, but knows the sport as well,” added Russell. “He’s going to make a great coach someday.”
Thursday against the No. 14 Cornhuskers, Ness will need to utilize both his outstanding skill and technical savvy as he takes on Nebraska’s defending national champion Paul Donahue at the Sports Pavilion. Ness got the better of Donahue in two regular seasons match-ups a year ago (winning 11-5 at the 2006 Kaufman-Brand Open and 8-6 in a dual meet last February), but lost at the Nov. 19 All-Star Classic in Oregon by a score of 5-2. Ness believes the pair’s early season match-up will prove beneficial when the two square off on Thursday evening.
“Going against (Donahue) earlier this year is obviously going to help,” said Ness. “I’ve watched a few of his other matches from this year, so I feel like I know how he is going to come out and wrestle.”
Russell also realizes that Ness will have his work cut out for him on Thursday against Donahue.
“It’s going to be a tough one, wrestling against the defending national champ, especially since he just wrestled him a couple weeks ago in the All-Star Classic,” said Russell. We want to keep seeing Jayson make strides... Donahue is the number one ranked guy in that weight class right now, and you can’t help but get fired up for that match. You want to put on a good performance.”
Minnesota’s best hope for a dual meet victory on Thursday may rest on the capable shoulders of their most energetic wrestler. Luckily for Minnesota fans, Ness is one Golden Gopher that also happens to be a quick study.
Story by Ryan Maus, Athletic Communications Intern