Devon Dunbar has had one wrestling coach his entire life, and that’s just fine with him.
Dunbar’s coach is his father, Bill Cannon, the head coach at Northwood.
“I’ve never had any other coach but my dad,” Dunbar said. “I feel I work a lot harder when he’s there. I don’t wrestle just because he was a state champion (at Lake), I just wrestle because I love the sport. It’s a lot better having a dad as a coach. He makes it easier to learn and stay motivated.”
A father-son relationship turned coach-son relationship on a consistent basis can often be a prickly situation. The two have their moments. Every match Dunbar, a 106-pound sophomore this season, wins, Bill finds joy. Lose a match and Dad feels like you just cut his heart out with a spoon.
“I don’t know if it’s losing a lot of sleep as much as losing life,” Bill joked about watching Devon on the mat. “It’s frustrating, but I love it. Sometimes we argue like crazy in the (practice) room and get on each other’s nerves. But in the corner, we’re a great team.
“He knows as long as he can come off the mat and know that he can hang his hat — try as hard as he can — at the end of the day I won’t be mad at him. I tell all my wrestlers that. If you feel you did your best, our job is done.”
Devon and his old man were equally frustrated at last week’s Division III district tournament at Bowling Green. A week earlier at the Elmwood sectional, Devon took third in his weight class to advance to BG. The top four placers at districts advanced to this week’s state tournament in Columbus. The fifth-place finishers qualify as state alternates.
Devon Dunbar finished sixth at districts, losing the match for fifth/sixth place to a wrestler from Edgerton. It was the same opponent that Devon whipped in the opening round, 15-2, a day earlier. Devon lost the rematch, 8-7.
“He beat the kid the day before and came out and wrestled like crap (on Saturday),” Coach Cannon said. “He did not feel good, so he kind of fell apart at the end.”
Dunbar opened the tournament with a loss to a wrestler from Sandusky St. Mary. He beat an opponent from Genoa, then another one from Lake. That set Devon up with a match against Woodmore junior standout Evan Ulinski, who took fourth at 106 pounds at last year’s state tournament and will take a 46-3 record into this week’s tournament.
Ulinski got a second-period escape and held on for a 1-0 victory over Cannon.
“He was very elusive,” said Ulinski, who pinned Cannon twice last season.
Bill Cannon knew his son was in for a tough match against Ulinski, a three-time league champion who is considered a “big” 106-pounder.
“It was the luck of the draw,” Coach Cannon said. “Devon had to wrestle somebody big to get out. We had a lot of scrambles, a lot of activity the whole match and that’s how it ended up.”
The loss dropped Devon down to the match for fifth/sixth place, against the foe from Edgerton.
“After that match (with Ulinski) I was disappointed I wasn’t going to state,” Devon said. “It wasn’t the right time to be wrestling in a match (for fifth/sixth place). I didn’t feel good and my mind wasn’t in it. With Ulinski, I know he’s strong and I know if I get myself in a bad position he’ll capitalize off that. I was stopping his shots and tried not to get muscled. I started scrambling and it was only a one-point match. It stunk, because I was one point away.”
Dunbar finished the season with a 30-9 record — and made his coach very proud in the process.
“When he wrestled Ulinski, that was probably the best he’s wrestled all year,” Bill said. “I was impressed. I told him, ‘you did nothing wrong.’ Coming into next year, he’s probably going to be the guy to beat, I’m thinking, at 120. He’s been growing a lot and was struggling to get to 106 this year. My goal is to make him really strong this summer.”
Dunbar said he plans to take a week off and then begin training with strength coach Tyler Derr. He qualified to the Junior Nationals in Fargo, N.D., as an eighth-grader but took last summer off, but he plans to go there again this summer.
“I don’t want to get burned out,” Devon said. “I’ll take a week off to rest up and then I’ll push myself so I’ll be where I want to be next year. My technique’s good and I want to work on getting stronger, then I’ll have every single aspect to be the best. Being a state champion is my goal.”