GILBERTVILLE — Tom Hogan was looking for just one wince.
Had Don Bosco’s head wrestling coach seen junior Thomas Even make that facial expression or hobble ever so slightly on his banged up right ankle, a towel was at the ready to be tossed onto the mat.
Fortunately for Hogan and Even, neither of those things happened last Saturday at the Keith Young Invitational.
Needing just 3 minutes, 19 seconds, Even scored three pins, including two over Top 10 3A opponents en route to the 182-pound title that helped the Dons capture the 16-team tournament.
“I don’t remember him telling me that, but we did talk about wrestling just one match and then defaulting,” said Even, the third-ranked wrestler in 1A at 182.
After opening with a 1:22 pin of Brennen Graber of Denver, Even decked eighth-ranked Alex Blizzard of Bettendorf in 1:12 in the semifinals and then flattened fourth-ranked Cael Knox of Cedar Rapids Kennedy in just 45 seconds in the championship match.
“I just wanted to come out and pin everybody as fast as I could, and I worked hard at it,” said Even, who continues to go to rehab once a week while also doing daily exercises at home to strengthen the ankle. “I’m still babying that ankle a bit, but I felt 100 percent out there.
“My mindset every time I step onto the mat is I can beat anybody across from me, and I’m not going to let anything affect me out there.”
Hogan said he and the coaching staff will continue to watch Even’s body language with that ankle, an injury that occurred last year in football and kept him out the first part of Don Bosco’s wrestling season as a sophomore.
While producing an all-state football season as a running back for the Dons’ eight-man team this season, Even re-injured the ankle in Don Bosco’s first playoff game, causing him to miss his team’s quarterfinal loss.
But with steady rehab and rest, Even has opened the wrestling season 7-0, including the Keith Young victory.
“We talked about we didn’t want to see one wince,” Hogan laughed. “But he never gave us a chance to see anything like that because of the three first-period pins.
“But, honestly, we want to get him through the season unscathed. We want him for the long haul, so if there is a spot or time to rest him we will. That was not his mindset last year when he’d say, ‘It’s fine, it’s fine.’ I think he understands that better this year.”
If the Dons can keep Even healthy, they know he will be a critical component to bigger team goals. Hogan describes Even as compact and muscular and there is not much he isn’t capable of doing on the mat.
“He is a dangerous wrestler in a lot of different positions,” Hogan said. “He has a great double leg, he’s always had it, but we’ve had to coax it out of him a little bit to use more.”
Getting that ankle back to 100 percent is also important for Even’s bigger picture.
Fifth a season ago at 170 pounds in the 1A state championships, Even is ranked behind defending 170-pound champion Gabe Pauley of AHSTW and Tucker Kroeze of Belmond-Klemme, who was third at 182.
“I do see the bigger picture better,” Even said.
Even is also excited for his team, which he believes can use the Keith Young championship as a sign of what it can accomplish in February, when the Dons will be one of the favorites at the state traditional tournament where they are seeking their 11th overall title, but first since 2012.
“What, it has been 10 years since we won the Keith Young,” Even said. “It was a big accomplishment. That win shows what we can do”