Watson displays fiery dedication
No members of the Upper Arlington High School wrestling team seemed to complain when a recent practice ended about 30 minutes later than expected.
Coach Matt Stout gathered the Golden Bears for a short speech on why he loved wrestling and the assistant coaches followed with their own anecdotes. Their love for the sport ranged from a desire to be in the spotlight to simply being in a team environment.
After the coaches spoke, senior Danny Watson shared his own reasons for competing in the sport, and he didn't hold back.
"More than anything, I'm a very bitter, very violent person (and) vengeful," Watson said. "For me, wrestling is all about coming back with a chip on your shoulder. That's why I've been wrestling so long. I think the first time I stepped onto a mat, I was 4 years old, so it's been a long time for me.
"Whenever I get beaten up, I feel down on myself, very much so. But at the same time, I come back with a chip on my shoulder and I'm just looking to beat on the next guy."
More often than not this season, that approach has worked. Watson was 13-3 with two top-three tournament finishes before competing in the Kevin Cleveland Invitational on Jan. 5 at Dublin Scioto and has a sometimes-fiery dedication to fulfill his role as a team co-captain.
It's not uncommon for Watson to be the loudest person in UA's wrestling room. During a sprint drill near the end of practice Jan. 2, he slammed his fist into the wall in frustration when his team fell a second short of finishing on time. Also during that same practice, he served as a referee in a takedown drill and shouted encouragement and advice to his teammates.
Watson, whose father, Rick, had coached wrestling at Brookhaven and Mifflin, had the Bears' second-best record before Jan. 5 behind junior Blake Reid, who is 9-0 but is sidelined by a cracked vertebrae. Reid, who initially sustained the injury during football season and recently aggravated it, is not expected to return to competition until mid-February.
Despite being involved in the sport for more than 13 years, Watson believes he only has tapped into his potential the past few years. At Stout's urging, he wrestled throughout last summer after missing much of last season because of a concussion.
"He's evolved the last two years," Stout said. "I wouldn't say he was a leader last year. He was unsure of himself, but he's grown up a lot this year."
Watson's season started fast. He won the 170-pound championship of the Lee Spitzer Golden Bear Invitational on Dec. 1 and placed third in the same weight class in the Kettering Fairmont Firebird Classic on Dec. 8.
Watson went 2-2 at 160 in the Medina Invitational Tournament held Dec. 28 and 29, losing his first match 9-1 to Jerald Spohn of New Lexington before rebounding to beat Matt Schlegel of Millersburg West Holmes 9-1 and Michael Meadows of Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy 7-1.
He then lost 13-5 to the eventual eighth-place finisher, Lancaster's Ethan Bond.
"Learning to relax on the mat was the biggest thing for me, because when I did wrestle last year, it was either I was going to pin the guy or I was going to get beaten up for six minutes," Watson said. "I learned how to relax and, once I did that, I could improve my technique and effectively utilize the techniques I was taught over the summer and in the open mats.
"It's the little, subtle things that create the really big differences, like learning not be too risky on your shots and when to fully commit."
Another guiding force for Watson is the spirit of his mother, Gina, who died of leukemia in November 2007 at age 42. He said his mother's memory helps him remember his priorities.
"That made me cherish the things I have," he said. "It goes back to the old cliche, 'You don't know what you have until it's gone.' With my mother, that was definitely that. Wrestling is nowhere near as important to me as family.
"But at the same time, I'm coming to the end of my high school wrestling career. If I'm coming to the end of my career, I need to start bringing my priorities into line. Wrestling is one of them. It makes me work hard."