Photo by J. Alan Paul Photography
The story of North Dakota State’s Jack Pine Savage doesn’t begin in the woods or a forest. It starts in a small mining town called Crosby, Minn.
Before the NCAA Championships and a massive growth spurt, Hayden Zillmer was a three-time state champion wrestler from Crosby-Ironton High School. Head coach of the Bison wrestling team Roger Kish thought he was bringing in an athletic 5-foot 10-inch, 141-pound machine, but the reward for landing Zillmer at NDSU quickly became sweeter.
It’s nothing new for 18-year-old recruits to keep growing when they hit the college level. Early in Zillmer’s career it appeared he was going to fall into this category, but he kept growing and growing.
During his redshirt year, he wrestled at 149, then 157 during his freshman season, and then jumped to 174 last season while developing into one of the best wrestlers on the team.
Zillmer won the NCAA West Regional at 174 pounds and joined his teammates Steven Monk, Kurtis Julson and Evan Knutson at the NCAA Championships.
After getting sick during his training for the NCAAs, Zillmer recovered but was quickly eliminated after two matches.
Zillmer continued to grow this offseason and it became apparent to his teammate and fellow NCAA Championship qualifier – Julson – that Zillmer would have to wrestler in a higher class.
“I guess you could just see it,” said Julson, who spent his junior year wrestling in the weight class above Zillmer. “So I dropped back down so the team was better if I was at 174, and he was up at 185.”
Julson’s selfless act has spring boarded Zillmer this season. He is ranked eighth in the nation at the 185-weight class and his teammates have started calling the man built like a tree, “a savage.”
“I was told earlier this year I was a savage,” Zillmer explained. “And I said, ‘Oh yeah, the Jack Pine Savage’ and everybody started making fun of me about it.”
As satirical as Zillmer and his teammates make it sound, the Jack Pine Savage name well represents the wrestler that is listed at 6 feet tall, but towers over his teammates in practice and his opponents on the mat.
Never staying put in a weight class for more than a year would seem to be a disadvantage for the junior, but he believes it’s the opposite.
“I think it’s gotten easier to tell you the truth,” Zillmer said. “I feel like I’m a lot quicker than the guys I wrestle. Muscle and power and stuff, I feel like that’s there too. Everything just clicks.”
As for senior Julson, he is now back in the weight class he wrestled at during his freshman and sophomore seasons. After winning his first tournament back in the 174-weight class, Julson has battled stiff competition this season and has compiled a record of 16-9. But coming off a victory against Minnesota’s Jordon Rothers, the senior is peaking at the appropriate time as the NCAA Championships approach and he said he’s more prepared than last season.
“You get to that point (where) if I lose, my season is done and everything is over,” Julson said. “Just having that experience when you come back and step away from it and can say, ‘I know what’s important now and I’ve learned to compose myself.’”
Zillmer and Julson are two names that helped the Bison achieve its goal of Western Wrestling Conference champions, but their seasons are far from over with the NCAA Championships around the corner.