Brad Steele has never been the most orthodox wrestler on a mat.
In fact, he has thrived on being exactly the opposite.
“You talk about a funky style, he would be the king of funk,” Dickinson State head wrestling coach Thadd O’Donnell said with a smile. Steele, who came to DSU out of Beach High School a half-decade ago as a North Dakota Class B state champion, looks to wrap up his wrestling career in style this weekend as he leads the No. 3-ranked Blue Hawks into the NAIA national tournament Friday and Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa.
“When I came out of high school, I wasn’t sure how college was going to go,” Steele said. “I didn’t know if I was going to make it a year or if I’d be able to do well or where I was at. I’ve gone on and progressed each year. The goal has always been set high.”
For Steele, his final goal is to walk off the mat Saturday afternoon as an NAIA national champion.
It could be his funky style that gets it done too.
Steele said his style has a way of catching opponents off guard.
“My style is a little different,” he said with a quick laugh. “I do things that they tell us not to do.”
Rewind five years and Steele was so unorthodox that he had O’Donnell a little worried about what was going to become of the wrestler he felt was one of the top local recruits in years.
Steele faced an uphill battle when he arrived at DSU as he tried to balance his style with a more orthodox freestyle approach used by the majority of college wrestlers.
“The first year, it was gut-wrenching to watch him, as a coach,” O’Donnell said. “He didn’t have a lot of confidence then. He lost a lot of those matches. But he kept progressing. We’ve learned to coach him more than he’s learned technique from us. His style is totally different than anybody we’ve had in the program and it works for him.”
After reaching the national tournament as a sophomore, Steele earned NAIA all-America honors as a junior when he placed seventh at 149 pounds.
This weekend he will wrestle at 141 pounds after winning the NAIA North Group title in the weight class. He enters the national tournament with the No. 3 national ranking and a 27-4 record.
That funky style is now Steele trademark, O’Donnell said.
“I could tell it would frustrate coaches the first couple years I was here,” Steele said. “We worked on fundamentals the first couple years, staying in good positions, doing solid moves and making those opportunities arise and taking advantage of them instead of trying to force awkward positions.”
One of his trademark moves is the “Steele Trap,” which O’Donnell said was unlike anything he had ever seen before Steele came along. In the move, the wrestler allows his opponent to shoot and get in a position for a takedown, only to have Steele turn him on his back for a takedown of his own.
DSU assistant coach Matt Pridgeon coined the name for the move, which O’Donnell said has confused match officials to the point where they’ve erroneously awarded takedown points to Steele’s opponents, only to later take them off the scoreboard.
“He’ll catch you and you’re not expecting it,” said DSU freshman Sean Elkins, who is from Hebron. “He has a bag of tricks for everything. When you wrestle, you want to try sizing someone up. You can’t really size up Brad. You go shoot on him and you’re on your back. He just catches you everywhere.”
Steele hopes his trap finds some unsuspecting prey this weekend as he embarks on the final days of his wrestling career.
He believes being at 141 after spending more than half of the season wrestling at 149 will help him.
“Wrestling fresh guys is definitely an advantage for me,” Steele said. “They aren’t expecting the goofy hips and that I can hop over things. They still wrestle me hard and the same as I normally would. I’ll catch and I set them up differently than a lot of normal guys would.”