By Ryan Divish
GREAT FALLS - Let's be real honest here. Emmett Willson scares me.
Not quite as much as snakes or flying, but he's right up there. He's much scarier than Michael Jackson's face up close, or the fact that there's a show called "Married by America" and people actually watch it.
But I am not alone. Willson frightens plenty of other people - namely his opponents.
Sure, they try and hide it. But I don't care how many times you practice your scowl in the mirror, or how many times your coach slaps you in the face before the match. The truth comes in the moment after you shake hands on the mat and it's only seconds before you will tie up with a tornado that your true feelings are expressed in your face.
If you looked closely at Willson's opponents during that moment, they all looked as if they were about to go in for a root canal with no novocaine.
But if you were about to step on the mat against Willson, you'd look as if you were about to pet a hungry grizzly bear, too.
It's tough to look mean and intense when the guy across from you is doing a better job at it.
The look on Willson's face before a match could make a dead man stand up and run.
It's a mixture of intensity, focus and anger all rolled into a glare that says, "For the next seven minutes - if you make seven minutes, that is - you are in for pain, suffering and general embarrassment."
Willson backs up that glare on the mat.
During this weekend's NAIA national tournament, his performance could be summed up in one word. Dominant.
He pinned his first two opponents in less time than it takes to order a Happy Meal. In the championship match, his opponent, Niko Koliostasis of Bacone College, resorted to stalling, hoping to keep the match close and maybe pick up a cheap takedown to steal a win.
The tactic worked for about 12 seconds, and all it really seemed to do was irritate Willson more than anything.
Let's see. You're wrestling perhaps the most explosive wrestler in the tournament and one of the best 197-pounders in any college division and your strategy is to do something that will only make him angry and wrestler harder? Yeah, good luck with that. It's only the worst strategy since Custer said to his troops, "There aren't that many of them, I think we can take them."
Willson admitted to wanting to pin Koliostasis to make it a clean sweep of pins over his opponents in the tournament. He was visibly frustrated as Koliostasis continually pushed on his chin, trying to keep him at bay and slow him down.
Willson's glare grew fiercer as he tried to force the tempo of the match. While he didn't get the pin, he picked up a 12-0 win and a standing ovation from an appreciative crowd at the Bison Fieldhouse.
Koliostasis, who didn't win many fans with his tactics, added himself to a lengthy and distinguished list of 46 wrestlers who have lost to Willson this season.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Willson's season is that of those 46 wins, most of them came away from Havre.
Willson wrestled in only three of Northern's six home duals. The other three he picked up forfeits. In those duals, there was a sigh of disappointment when the forfeits were announced. It was like seeing your favorite band in concert without its lead singer.
For people who have never seen him wrestle, it's tough to describe. Everything seems to stop when he steps on the mat. Even in the minutes before Willson actually starts wrestling, there is a sense of anticipation and suspense. It's more than the calm before the storm, it's like watching two cars speeding directly at each other. You know what's going to happen and it will be very ugly and someone will get hurt. Yet, you still can't take your eyes off it.
Before Willson's semifinal match against Fritz Dorsica of William Penn, the crowd was unusually quiet. It was as if everyone was holding their breath in anticipation.
Everything and everyone stopped to watch. Even the referees working on the the other mats stood and watched. During the match, no one really cheered. Unlike most matches when the screams of parents and fans fill the air, it was quiet enough to hear Dorsica gasp for breath as Willson slammed him to the mat.
Even the large and boisterous MSU-Northern fan contingent was unusually quiet. It was like people were afraid to disrupt the sanctity of the match.
A first-time fan may have looked at the two wrestlers and assumed that Dorsica should win because he looked much bigger than Willson.
But it didn't matter that Dorsica looked much bigger and stronger. This isn't professional wrestling. Things like quickness, leverage and balance far outweigh muscular tone and size. Willson's combination of those three elements was overpowering. Dorsica still looked really big as he was flat on his back and Willson was pressing his shoulder blades to the mat.
It all happened so fast that Dorsica went from a look of fear to one of total bewilderment that said, "What the heck just happened?"
Still, it's crazy to be afraid of Willson. Off the mat, he doesn't have that glare or the scowl. Rather, he usually has a grin and smiles quicker than some of his pins this season.
People who meet him are shocked by his pleasantness, and a voice that seems just a little too high for a guy that tough. You'd think a guy like him would sound more like Darth Vader, not David Spade.
Maybe the look on the mat is just a hoax. Maybe it's just a facade and he really isn't that intense and fierce when he wrestles. Maybe there's nothing about wrestling Emmett Willson to be scared of.
Maybe so, but I'm not about to find out.