By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
Just for a moment, you would think Emmett Willson might take a little credit for all that he has achieved in his wrestling career.
But that just wouldn't be Willson, now would it?
Even after receiving the 2004 Dan Hodge Trophy - the most prestigious honor a collegiate wrestler can earn in the United States - the ever humble Willson was quick to thank others who helped during his four years at Northern.
"It's definitely an honor," Willson said Tuesday afternoon. "But it wouldn't have ever happened without the coaching staff, particularly David Ray, and all the workout partners I've had over the years."
The award, which goes to the top collegiate wrestler who best exemplifies the criteria of dominance, number of pins, record, past credentials, quality of competition, sportsmanship, citizenship and heart, is named after former University of Oklahoma star Dan Hodge who won three national titles (1955-57).
Winning the award was something that Willson had never even considered even after a season which saw him finish 50-0 against top-level competition and conclude with his third-straight NAIA national title.
"I was real surprised when they called," he said. "They kept asking me a bunch of questions at first. I really don't think it sunk in right away. But after a few days, I understand how much it means."
For Willson it is the culmination of four years of excruciating work and development in the hell that is Northern's wrestling room.
"There really are no words to describe what goes on in that room for five months out of the year," he said. "Some of it's good, some of it's bad, but you really become a family in that room. It's unbelievable."
What is even more unbelievable is Willson's progression as a wrestler since the day he first set foot on this campus as a wide-eyed recruit five years ago.
"I got the crap kicked out of me," he recalled. "I don't know if I scored a single takedown. It was bad. But you either get tougher or quit."
Thankfully, Willson didn't quit. The internal drive to get better pushed him every day to work harder and make himself into the wrestler he is today.
"I don't think there is a percentage that can measure how much he has gotten better," said Northern head coach David Ray. "He has improved tremendously. I love his work ethic. He has that special determination in his eye."
Said Willson: "Without David Ray and the coaching staff and all of my workout partners over the years, I wouldn't be any better than when I was a freshman."
Ray hopes that determination will propel Willson to continue his amateur wrestling career. So far, Willson has been on the fence a little about his future. There is only one certainty.
"The one thing I'm sure is that I want to finish my degree and do my student teaching," Willson said. "And just go from there."
The amateur wrestling life after college can be a tough one. There are no teammates to push you through. It is often solitary work. But if anyone can do it, Ray believes it is Willson.
"I don't want him five years down the road to regret that he didn't try," Ray said. "Honestly, when you compete at that level you are more alone. But I know that if it's something he wants, Emmett will work to get it."
Regardless of what the future may hold and the success Willson has achieved in his career, Ray is the first to point out that Willson is the same modest kid from Shepherd.
"He never lets things go to his head and I don't think he ever will," he said.
Said Willson: "Some people let things like this change you. For one person to take all the credit would be selfish."