Raise your hand if you think you could replicate what Northwood junior Devon Dunbar did last Thursday through Saturday at the Division III state wrestling tournament in Columbus.
You’ve spent the last six months sweating, practicing, lifting weights, running, not sleeping, dieting, and you get to Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center and you lose your opening-round match – in overtime, yet, on a referee’s questionable call – in the biggest event of your life.
“My state title hopes were over,” Dunbar said. “It wasn’t like I just got my butt kicked. I just lost (2-0) in overtime on a bad call.”
Dunbar’s only hope at that point was to get a third place medal, but he would have to regroup and win his next five matches against some of the best 126-pounders in Ohio.
“He was so nervous his first match,” said Northwood coach Bill Cann
|Northwood junior Devon Dunbar goes upside-down with an opponent
at the Division III state meet at Ohio State’s Value City Arena. (Press
photo by Harold Hamilton/HEHphotos.smugmug.com)
on, who is also Dunbar’s father and a state wrestling champ at Lake in 1999. “His first trip down to state and he lost 2-0 in overtime. It was questionable and I went to argue it. I thought the time expired, but it is what it is. He lost in the last two seconds. The kid had a single leg on him and Devon got anxious and was going for the win. He did a low leg wizard, which is a defense, but he jumped it too soon and didn’t have it locked in all the way. The kid popped his head out and the ref looked and said, ‘Two’ (points). Devon lost, and it stuck.”
Burton Berkshire senior T.J. Malkus would pay for that controversial win over Dunbar. The two would meet again in the consolation semifinals.
Northwood assistant coach Steve Simok, the 135-pound state champion at Northwood in 1999, and Cannon both gave Dunbar a pep talk.
“I was a little depressed after that match,” Dunbar said. “Coach Simok said, ‘You better pick your head up, because you have the next match.’ My dad said his junior year he made it to state and he lost in the consolation semifinal and forfeited the match for fifth and sixth place. He said that was his biggest regret. He said he didn’t want me to make that mistake.”
Dunbar beat Coldwater’s Spencer Seibert, 8-1, in the second round, then got past Noah Mattin of Delta, 5-4, to advance to the consolation quarterfinals. Dunbar earned a 4-2 decision over Loudonville’s Colton Ullman, setting up a rematch with Malkus in the consolation semis.
By now, Dunbar was very comfortable with his surroundings. He said he felt like he was out of his element the day before.
“When I walked out there the first time,” Dunbar said, “I was shell-shocked. I was in awe of what was going on. When the whistle blew, it just didn’t go away.”
Cannon could tell his son didn’t have his mind right on Thursday.
“The venue got the best of him,” Cannon said. “He was so nervous he was overthinking everything. He was trying not to lose and make mistakes instead of just wrestling. It takes a lot of heart to lose your first round and come through at the state tournament and win five straight matches. I’m very impressed with him.”
Dunbar said Malkus didn’t look concerned that he had to face Dunbar again.
“I was really mad and I wasn’t leaving everything up to the ref,” Dunbar said. “I wasn’t nervous, and I had a big grudge with him. I wrestled my match. I think he went out there like, ‘I already beat this kid.’ I sensed that. When he was warming up, I took a look at him and he didn’t look nervous. He had a cocky look, like he already beat me.”
The semifinal match proved to be one-sided, with Dunbar winning 6-0 to advance to the match for third place. His 4-2 win over Rocky River Lutheran West junior Tim Mecklenburg was the 100th of Dunbar’s career (100-21). He finished with a 41-9 record and a state tournament medal to add to his Ohio Wrestling League, sectional and district titles.
“Remarkable,” Cannon said. “He got his courage together and his heart together. He realized he belonged and he banged out five straight.”
Dunbar is Northwood’s first state placer since Jake Grigson took eighth at 140 pounds in 2007.
“It was the next best thing to first place,” Dunbar said. “I would rather take third over second, actually. Third place (means) you lost once. Second place, you lost once. There was nothing I could do about that loss, so I did the best thing I could do. I’m pretty happy with it. I wouldn’t be happy if it was my senior year. This is only my junior year, so I can win it next year.”
Dunbar joins Northwood teammate Trevor Mack, an Ohio Wrestling League champion, on this year’s Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press Wrestling Honor Roll.