He hasn’t donned a competitive singlet since the first decade of the 21st century, but a fire for the sport of wrestling still burns bright in Jacob Stevenson.
Morningside College’s head wrestling coach doesn’t need to look too far for the reasons why he still enjoys working out in the campus practice facility or gives his team advice mat-side during duals and tournaments. In his eyes, there’s always room for growth and improvement with more opportunities out there to showcase the college on and off the mat.
“There’s always a sense of responsibility in my eyes to further the program,” he said. “When former head coach Tim Jager turned the coaching duties over to me prior to the 2012-13 campaign, he did so with it being in a strong place. The goal of keeping going what he had in place and building it even more is always in front of me.”
The drive of a student-athlete who won the program’s first national title as part of 130 career victories is always in third gear, and a look at Stevenson’s journey in the sport offers a view of why.
“Our family was that wrestling family,” Stevenson reflected. “My dad was my brother and I’s youth coach, so we learned the basics early. The next step in my love of the sport came from head coach Dale Bonge at Boone Central High School in Nebraska. Bonge set a good foundation for not only me but everyone he coached,” he added. “His baseline was pushing us every day but making it fun whether it was in or out of season. Through that, he was always teaching us life skills. I have so much respect for him to this day and use a lot of what he taught me in the Morningside program.”
After a prep career that saw him win 96 matches and qualify for three Nebraska Class C tournaments, Stevenson knew he wanted to be part of something similar to what Coach Bonge had been doing.
“I remember seeing Tim and the cauliflower ears on my visit to Morningside and thinking ‘This is what a wrestling coach should look like,’” he recalled with a laugh. “Tim was exactly what I needed for the next step in my career. He and former assistant coach Clint Kudom were always challenging me on and off the mat, never wanting me to settle. It got tough at times but in the end, everything those two did for not only me but everyone in the room was worth it.”
Eight years into the process of being a head coach, the Mustangs’ path to success is one of lessons learned by their head coach in the past and looking towards new horizons in the future.
“I’ve kind of tried to have someone each season be the face of the team,” he noted. “It worked really well when John Sievert (former national champion) took that role and became a great leader.”
A big piece of Stevenson’s recruiting foundation is wanting to create national champions. It’s all about people with great attitudes and work ethic who could easily take those two traits and turn into a John Sievert or Keegan Hessler (former multi-time All-American). Stevenson says that those kinds of athletes are role models for the rest of the team through example and help the coaching staff relay their message to everyone.
Stevenson’s ability to bring in another former Mustang success story in multi-time national qualifier and two-time All-American Rulin Pederson, Hessler and former Maroon heavyweight standout Tyler Kacmarynski as assistants enables the recruiting message to remain clear.
“It goes back to the way I saw Coach Bonge and Tim do things before me,” he said. “The message was always consistent and positive to a path of success not only competitively but academically, too. We need to keep following those paths.”