Dylan Anderson felt bad when his roommate and good friend, Owen Webster, went down with a knee injury in November. But he's filled in admirably for Webster since as the 184-pound starter on the University of Minnesota wrestling team.
Anderson, the only three-time state place winner in Hudson High School history, currently leads the Gophers with 21 wins as a redshirt freshman. He stepped in for Webster at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas in early December and beat Zen Ikihara of Air Force in his first match, 5-3. He went on to go 3-2 at the invite, including a close loss to No. 5 ranked Dom Abounader of Michigan.
"I got the opportunity to fill in for Owen at the Las Vegas Invite and had a pretty close match with Abounader and the coaches saw I have some skills that are valuable to the team," he said. "I'm still not sure I'll be starting when Owen comes back but I have to keep preparing as if I will."
Anderson has been preparing for this opportunity all his life, beginning as a youth wrestler in Hudson with his good friend and future Raider teammate Sawyer Massie. He credits Massie and Raider head coach Chris Hansen for helping him become a better wrestler.
"Chris Hansen was, and still is, an incredible high school coach and he pushed me and Sawyer to keep getting better," he said. "Sawyer is a good friend of mine. We started wrestling together when we were about 6-7 years old right through high school."
Anderson said he has great memories of high school, especially taking first place at the Bi-State Classic his senior year.
"That was was a great memory," he said. "And placing third at state twice, especially the first time my junior year, that was an eye-opening experience. Just like at college it made me realize I can be in the game. And long practices in the wrestling room with Sawyer and Hansen, getting in fights and getting bloodied up."
After finishing third at state for the second straight year as a senior, Anderson said he heard from a number of NCAA Division II and III schools, but Minnesota was the only Division I school to show any interest.
"Luckily I hadn't made up my mind in the fall of my senior year but then later in the year the Gopher coach, J Robinson at the time, contacted me and said he'd like me to come up and visit and I was pretty excited about it," Anderson said. "Seeing the resources at the Division I level and that there were a lot of academic options; I hadn't decided what I wanted to do academically yet, I was really excited to be recruited by the Gophers."
Anderson said the difference between high school and NCAA Division I was noticeable right from the start.
"It's definitely more intense at the college level," he said. "Wrestling with Sawyer, he was really the only one who could push me and give me a good look. Here at college, every single person in the room gives you a challenge. Every person in the room is a great wrestler. You really get a good look at where you need to improve and push yourself."
Anderson said he learns more about himself every time he steps on the mat. Four of his five Big Ten losses this season have come against opponents ranked in the top six in the nation, including No. 1 ranked Bo Nickal of top-ranked Penn State.
"There were things I saw I was doing well and other things I need to get better at," he said. "Every single wrestler at Division 1 is a great wrestler. In high school you may only run into a great wrestler one or two or three times a year."
Anderson said the challenges of being a Division 1 student-athlete also spill over into the classroom.
"I got by in high school really doing minimal studying and not putting in a lot of effort," he admitted. "It's more work here but they give you a lot of resources to stay on top of things."
He said he stays busy juggling workouts, practices and competition with his studies.
"My days vary from Monday through Friday," he said. "Some days I have two classes and some days three or four. For the most part it's classes in the middle of the day. We practice at 10 a.m. then lift around three or four, depending on classes, then cooking for ourselves and studying."
Anderson said he's been following his old high school team closely since he graduated two years ago, and has made it back to one or two practices this season.
"I'd like to do more but I'm busy here," he said. "It's fun to see the guys who were freshmen and sophomores when I was there doing well now. And to see the younger guys coming up as well."
He said it's a privilege to be student-athlete at the University of Minnesota.
"I'd say being a Gopher student-athlete is a lot of work, but it's definitely worth it."