That's the way Gordy Morgan, a member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman Team who has known Dylan since he was a little boy, describes him with a chuckle.
Dylan Ness won USA Wrestling's Triple Crown in 2008 (Photo/The Guillotine)Dylan's wrestling coach at Bloomington Kennedy High School, Chuck Vavrosky, describes him as a happy-go-lucky kid until it's time to wrestle. Then the other side of Dylan comes out. The side that makes him one of the most feared high school wrestlers in the country.
In 2008, Dylan claimed USA Wrestling's Triple Crown in the cadet division by winning a national title in all three styles of wrestling (folkstyle, freestyle, and Greco-Roman), a feat that has only been accomplished five times ever in the cadet division. He crushed the competition at the prestigious Cadet Nationals in Fargo, North Dakota in July, going a combined 17-0 in the Greco-Roman and freestyle competition with 10 technical falls and four pins. Dylan was also Triple Crown winner as a schoolboy in 2006. Between 2007 and 2008, Dylan won a combined five national titles (two in folkstyle, two in Greco-Roman, and one in freestyle) as a cadet.
Growing up a Ness
It's not hard to figure out why Dylan Ness took an immediate liking to the sport of wrestling. By the time he started wrestling with the Bloomington Athletic Association, when he was in kindergarten, wrestling had already become a way of life for the Ness family. Dylan's older brother by five years, Jayson, now a two-time All-American and NCAA runner-up at the University of Minnesota, was racking up trophies at state and national events.
Dylan's father, Jay, grew up a hockey player in Minneapolis. His mother, Sally, grew up in Plymouth. The couple moved to Bloomington because of the reputation of the hockey programs in the city.
In Bloomington, kids aren't allowed to start playing organized hockey until second grade. During the summer, when Jayson was young, Sally would take him to the park regularly. In the winter, she would bring him to the McDonald's indoor playground. But that wasn't enough. She felt that Jayson needed more activity.
Sally noticed that when Jayson would play tag with the other kids, he always needed breaks because he would be out of breath (He was initially diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, although it was later determined that he was misdiagnosed and had asthma.)
"I'm like, 'Jay, we can't wait until second grade," recalled Sally Ness. "He needs to get some exercise.'"
Sally soon found out that in Bloomington kids could start wrestling in kindergarten. So instead of waiting until second grade to start playing organized hockey, she signed Jayson up for wrestling. After all, it was only $25 to join, plus Bloomington had a strong wrestling tradition.
Bloomington Kennedy High School was a wrestling powerhouse in the late 70s and early 80s. The Eagles qualified for the state team tournament from 1978 to 1986, winning state titles in 1980 and 1984, and produced standout wrestler likes the Morgan brothers (John, Gordy, and Marty), and Joel Sharratt.
Once Jayson signed up for wrestling, Jay took the attitude of, "OK, if my son is going to be a wrestler, I'm going to do everything I can to help him be successful."
So Jay Ness, who had never seen a wrestling match until Jayson started wrestling, literally became a sponge. He soaked up as much information as he could about wrestling by reading books, going to practices, and picking the brains of great wrestling minds throughout Minnesota, people like the Morgan brothers, Brandon Paulson, John Thorn, Pat Zilverberg, and Pat Bigboy.
Gordy Morgan (Photo/The Guillotine)"I could tell their family loved wrestling," said Gordy Morgan, who has served as the head freestyle coach of the Minnesota Storm Wrestling Club since 2001. "They would ask me a bunch of questions. Before we knew it, we were friends."
Jay picked up a wrestling mat to put in the basement so the Ness boys and their friends could practice at home. Gordy, who lived nearby, would come over to their house and work on technique with Jayson, while Jay took notes, and Dylan and Gordy's son, Ben, played together.
"I would show Jayson stuff, and then when I would get done, I would say, 'OK, Jayson, I'm showing you this stuff now, but I want you to be able to show Dylan and Ben this stuff someday,'" recalled Gordy.
Jay and Sally Ness were supportive wrestling parents to the core. They were not only there for their own kids, but also for other kids. When other parents weren't able to take their kids to the wrestling tournaments, Jay and Sally would take care of it. They fed the kids dinner, let them practice on the wrestling mat in their basement, let them stay overnight, and took them to the tournaments. You name it, they did it.
Jay took Dylan and Jayson to wrestling tournaments and camps all over the country. Dylan was successful from the get go. And he loved every minute of it. He won his first national title, in Greco-Roman, as a novice (12 and under). Dylan was winning and creating a unique wrestling style in the process.
"Dylan was a scrapper," recalled Brad Pike, a two-time All-American for the University of Minnesota, who started coaching Dylan in the Bloomington Wrestling Club in 1998. "He was unpredictable. You didn't know what his next move would be or the next thing he was going to try. He wasn't just a basic wrestler. He did the moves his own way. He was successful wrestling that style, but in a way, it was sometimes harder to coach him because he had his own take on how to do the moves. He didn't do the moves the way someone would traditionally do the moves. He always liked to use a little more funk."
Dylan's matches were wild and high scoring. Points would be flying around everywhere. Gordy would often times say to Jay, as the two sat in Dylan's corner, "You watch the scoreboard. I'll coach the match."
The stories of young Dylan Ness are comical.
Like the first time he went to Tulsa Nationals as a kindergartner, got pinned in 20 seconds, threw a fit and refused to get off the mat, and then told Olympic silver medalist Brandon Paulson, who was coaching him at the time, that he's the worst coach ever and doesn't know anything about wrestling. (The two are now friends.)
Or the time he showed up at the kids state tournament with a blue Mohawk given to him by Josh Holiday, and when he wrestled his matches, the blue dye from his hair would get on his opponents' singlets.
Or the time he tried to impress Marty Morgan, when Jayson was being recruited to the University of Minnesota, by putting his national championship trophy and straight-A report card on the table for the then-Gopher head assistant coach to see.
Or the other time he tried to impress Marty Morgan, while Jayson was being recruited, by flexing his 12-year-old muscles and shouting, "Hey Marty, recruit this!" A short time later, after Dylan asked for his dad's help to get a pickle jar open, Marty looked over at Dylan and said, "Hey Dylan, when you can beat the pickle jar, we'll start recruiting you."
Wrestling at Bloomington Kennedy
Dylan broke into the varsity lineup at Bloomington Kennedy as an eighth-grader weighing only 90 pounds. He posted a 23-13 record as an undersized 103-pounder, placed third in the section tournament, and missed qualifying the state tournament by one match. The next season, as a freshman, Dylan went 39-3 and placed third at the state tournament at 103 pounds. Last season, Dylan compiled a 40-2 record and once again placed third again at the state tournament, this time at 119 pounds. Dylan's only loss at the state tournament came to Apple Valley phenom Destin McCauley, a sophomore who is on track to become Minnesota's first six-time state champion.
Dylan Ness lost in the state semifinals last season to Apple Valley phenom Destin McCauley, but came back to place third (Photo/The Guillotine)Against McCauley, Dylan went for the big move at the beginning of the match, a throw, and it backfired. He quickly found himself down 5-0. A five-point deficit against a wrestler as skilled and savvy as McCauley is virtually impossible to come back from. McCauley, who won a Cadet Nationals title in Fargo last summer, cruised to a 15-4 victory.
"I think Dylan learned a lot from that match," said Jayson, who was in Dylan's corner coaching him in that match. "He has learned to slow things down. He comes out with a lot more confidence in his matches now. He is just a lot better at attacking. In that match, Dylan came out slow and a little bit scared. He went for the homerun move and he didn't need it. He learned there is a time to use the big moves, or junk, and there is a time to wrestle solid and stay in good position."
Vavrosky, who has been the head wrestling coach at Bloomington Kennedy since 1986, also questioned Dylan's match strategy against McCauley.
Recalled Vavrosky, "I asked Dylan, ‘Did you think you had to have a big move to beat Destin? Or did you just think that big move was there?' Because in order to beat someone of Destin's caliber, you have to be very sound technically with your basic stuff. That's how you're going to beat him. A big move will not beat a wrestler of his caliber on most occasions."
Those close to Dylan believe that loss to McCauley at the state tournament helped fuel him in the spring and summer tournaments. Dylan admits it himself.
"That loss helped me a lot because I knew that I wrestled really bad," said Dylan. "I had to come back. I knew that I could do a lot better than that and felt that I could prove it in the spring and summer."
Dylan Ness (Photo/The Guillotine)Last April, Dylan went out to Cedar Falls and won USA Wrestling's Folkstyle Nationals with a pin in the championship match. In June, he went 6-0 at the Cadet National Duals (Greco-Roman) in Kansas City, and was named to the All-Tournament Team. Then, in July, Dylan capped off the Cadet Triple Crown by winning Cadet Nationals in freestyle and Greco-Roman in Fargo.
"Watching Dylan wrestle in Fargo last summer was incredible," said Jay. "That's the most confidence I've ever seen him show on the mat. I think he matured. He really felt that he could do what he set out to do. It was a lot of fun watching him."
Dylan and Jayson are each other's biggest supporters. They grew up always doing things together. The sport of wrestling has only brought the two brothers closer together. In some families, there is rivalry between siblings. That is not the case with Dylan and Jayson. There is only love, support, and friendship. The two brothers have remained close despite the five-year difference in age.
"It's great to see Dylan accomplish some of the things I could never do," said Jayson. "It goes to show that all the hard work he has put in, and all the time he has spent following me around, is paying off. It shows that he has actually been paying attention and learning things."
Jayson has passed on a lot of what he has learned in the sport to Dylan, just like Gordy asked him to do over a decade ago. Unfortunately for Gordy, his signature half nelson series he showed Jayson when he was a little guy … Well, Jayson passed it on to Dylan, who used it to pin Gordy's son, Ben, a state champion for Forest Lake High School, two years in a row in the finals of the St. Francis Invitational.
Not only has Jayson passed on wrestling skills to Dylan, but also things off the mat.
"Jayson would always fold his clothes when he would go out to wrestle," said Sally. "It was about respecting everything around you. So Jayson told Dylan that. And now Dylan folds other people's clothes when they wrestle. It's just a respect thing. It's not from me. It was passed on from Jayson to Dylan."
Jayson has wowed crowds at wrestling events for many years because of his on-the-mat exploits. Last season, he pinned 20 opponents, tying Marty Morgan's single-season pin record at the University of Minnesota, using Gordy's signature half nelson series for many of the pins. Jayson, because of his humility and pinning prowess, has become a fan favorite not only for Minnesota wrestling fans, but also wrestling fans throughout the country. Jayson often times acknowledges his hometown fans after he gives them what they came to see.
Last season, Jayson Ness tied Marty Morgan's single season pin record at the University of Minnesota (Photo/University of Minnesota Sports Information)"It might appear like Jayson likes the spotlight, but I don't think he does," said Sally. "I think Jayson noticed that when other people didn't acknowledge somebody, it didn't look right. The crowd came to see you, so you should acknowledge them. They are there for you, so don't shy away. And then Jayson told Dylan that. So Dylan has picked it up at an earlier age, to respect the people out there who come to see you."
Even though Jayson has passed on many things he has learned to Dylan, the two brothers are much different in many respects both on and off the mat.
Dylan is a free spirit who just goes with the flow, while Jayson is much more organized and prefers structure. Dylan's wrestling style is wide open with a lot of flair. Jayson's wrestling style is controlled with virtually no flair.
"I think they're very different," said Vavrosky. "Jayson comes at you with a total work ethic. He's all business, whereas Dylan is a happy-go-lucky kid. He's having a good time in the wrestling room, but yet he's working at becoming a better wrestler all the time."
Gordy also sees those differences in the two brothers.
"If you wanted to pick a kid who is a textbook, straight-and-narrow wrestler, by the book, no frills, that's Jayson," said Gordy. "He just works hard and doesn't ever really go out of the box. If you look at Dylan, he's out of the box. He thinks out of the box, so the stuff he does is out of the box. But he makes sure it will work for him."
Now and the future
Dylan moved up four weight classes from last season when he competed at 119 pounds. He's now competing at 140 pounds in his junior season. On December 20, Dylan won the Minnesota Christmas Tournament in Rochester, which is Minnesota's premier midseason individual tournament. In the finals, Dylan won 11-4 over Hofstra recruit Luke Vaith of Hastings High School.
"I tell you what … It's unbelievable how his mentality has changed this season," said Pike, who has been an assistant coach at Bloomington Kennedy since 2001. "He has grown up a lot. He has filled into his body. And he's very focused."
Dylan, who is ranked as the eighth best high school junior in the U.S. across all weight classes by RevWrestling.com, is still looking for that elusive state title after losing in the state semifinals the past two seasons.
Dylan Ness has given a verbal commitment to wrestle at the University of Minnesota (Photo/The Guillotine)"It's really important to me to win the state title," said Dylan. "I have finished third the last two years. I just want to get to the top of the podium and prove that I can win state. I've done the national stuff. Now I have to get the state title."
Although Dylan is still only a junior in high school, he has verbally committed to wrestle at the University of Minnesota after high school.
"I just wanted to get done with it early," said Dylan of his verbal commitment. "I don't want to have to deal it with next year as a senior. I don't have to look at other schools. I can just worry about wrestling and having fun. The U is close to home. My brother is there. I know all the coaches and the guys. So it's just nice."
So what are Dylan's wrestling aspirations after high school?
"I want to win an NCAA title and hopefully make it to the Olympics and do well there."
Please Note: This story also appears in the January 2 issue of The Guillotine. The Guillotine has been covering amateur wrestling in Minnesota since 1971. Its mission is to report and promote amateur wrestling at all levels -- from youth and high school wrestling to college and international level wrestling. For information on how to subscribe, click HERE.