Hunting His Prey
Dec. 18, 2009
By Larry Watts
Whether it's in the field or on the mat at the University of Minnesota, Jayson Ness is always hunting his prey. And more often than not, this Golden Gopher usually comes out successful.
Small game -- squirrel, rabbit, pheasant and duck -- are usually the focal point of this Bloomington, Minn. native's hunting trips. He rates squirrel as his favorite target.
"People around Minneapolis laugh when I tell them I shoot squirrel," he says. "They're thinking of these city squirrels and they tell me how easy it is to shoot something five feet away.
"But those country squirrels are quite a bit smarter. They're pretty quick and they know how to run when they hear someone coming. I like to think I'm a pretty good shot and the meat is pretty good."
Ness says he has been hunting since he was 5 years old. "My father would take me out with a BB gun," says Ness, who has since graduated to a .22-caliber rifle and 12-gauge shotgun. "The cold weather doesn't bother me; you just have to bundle up."
But Ness admits he doesn't have the patience for hunting deer. "I enjoy being outdoors and getting away from things with my friends and family," he says. "Some guys will sit around in those stands for eight hours waiting for a deer and come back with nothing. I like walking around."
There seems to be no limit to the number of prey the three-time All-American can bag on the Minnesota mats. He has already claimed 120 wins (120-15), ranking him 12th on the Gophers' all-time victory list and is well within reach of Ed Geise's record of 152, which has stood since 1986. He already holds the all-time pin record, 57 and counting, and shares the single-season mark of 20 (as a sophomore) with Marty Morgan.
"I really haven't thought about the (victory) record," he says. "I only worry about each coming match and trying to get every pin I can. If I pin the guy, the win takes care of itself."
But Ness has to admit he is in a bit of awe when he sees his name mentioned with some of the best that have wrestled for this collegiate powerhouse.
"It is really cool," he says. "To look at photos of all these guys -- Tim Hartung, Marty Morgan and Billy Pierce. These are guys I looked up to as a kid watching Minnesota wrestling."
Ness' attachment to wrestling goes all the way back to kindergarten, when a Friday folder he brought home from school contained a flier about a youth wrestling club.
"I thought it was like pro wrestling and I wanted to join," he says. "My dad figured if I got involved in it I would become a big tough guy like him.
"My dad was a hockey player and he wanted me to get involved in hockey. That's part of the reason we moved from Minneapolis to Bloomington. Kennedy High School (where Ness would eventually attend) had just won the state hockey tournament. However, you couldn't play hockey until the third grade and I never really pursued it because I was so involved in wrestling. I think my parents were just happy that I was involved in a sport."
Ness' attachment to the University of Minnesota has always been strong. Since the third grade, Gordy Morgan, Marty's older brother, who is now the club coach at Minnesota, has coached him. He was also coached at the club level by Minnesota assistant Brandon Eggum and spent several summers going to head coach J Robinson's camps.
"I was really involved in Minnesota wrestling at a young age," he says. "I had scholarship offers from North Dakota State, Northwestern, the Naval Academy and Penn State and took official visits to all of them but Penn State. But after I took my official visit to Minnesota, it was all over."
Ness took a redshirt season and compiled a 19-4 record as a true freshman while wrestling unattached. It was a season he describes as "a great learning experience."
"The sport is so much faster and harder at this level than it was in high school, but the biggest difference was probably the intensity," he says. "(All-American) Matt Reiter beat me up all the time in the wrestling room, but those beatings helped make me a lot better.
"And I think I really matured a lot that year. I may have been only 15 minutes from home, but I no longer had my mother hanging over me to make sure I was doing my homework and she wasn't cooking my meals. You learn to take care of yourself and learn about life in general."
As a redshirt freshman at 125 pounds, Ness compiled a 40-5 record, which included 22 straight victories and an 8-0 record in the Big Ten. He won the Big Ten title with a major decision over Iowa's Charlie Falck and went on to place fifth at the NCAA Championships for his first All-American honor.
The following season, the 5-foot-8 Ness was 39-2 and tied the school record with 20 pins. However, both of his losses, in the Big Ten and NCAA championship matches, came to Indiana's Angel Escobedo.
"Angel is really a tough wrestler," he says. "I'm very aggressive and looking to get in their face as soon as possible. I'm going to do everything I can to put them on their back as soon as possible. But Angel is very defensive and explosive. It was hard to take him down and, once he gets on top, he's a good rider."
Ness moved up to 133 pounds last season, posting a 38-8 mark, and took third at the NCAA Championships. He lost a 1-0 decision to eventual NCAA runner-up Reece Humphrey of Ohio State, who has moved up to 141 this season. However, NCAA champ Franklin Gomez does return this year.
"This is going to be a tough weight class again this year. There are some very good guys returning and a lot of young guys coming in who are very good," he says. "I think my chances (of an NCAA title) are good, but I just have to keep my head on straight and keep working hard. I'll take it one match at a time and make sure I am ready for everybody."
A technical education major at Minnesota, Ness will be entering graduate school this spring to earn a masters degree in education. He hopes to be helping out with the wrestling program next year, when younger brother Dylan is a freshman.
"One of the great things about this program is we have had a lot of brothers come through here," he says. "Wrestlers come here, see how great it is and they want their younger brothers to come. The great thing is the families already know the coaching staff and they know the school. This has been a great experience and I have met a lot of awesome people.
"After I'm done, it will be cool to look back at the record books and see the accomplishments. But the only thing I worry about now is this season."