By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

Wrestling at the 2017 U.S. Open Championships, Devin Reynolds looked to the mat next to his and saw David Taylor, a two-time NCAA champion from Penn State and member of the United States World Freestyle Team.

Reynolds, himself a two-time state champion while at McNary, had come a long way since a series of concussions ended his career at Oregon State.

After the national tournament, Reynolds would go even further.

Devin Reynolds, a 2013 graduate of McNary High School, placed third at NAIA Nationals for Grand View University, after not being able to wrestle for nearly two years. (Robert Miller)

Reynolds decided to sign with the Beavers in 2013 after finishing his final high school season 45-0.

As a redshirt freshman, Reynolds went 23-9 and placed third in the Pac-12 in 2015 in his first season at Oregon State.

“It’s a kid’s dream come true to wrestle at a D-I level,” Reynolds said. “The competition was intense and it was everything a young wrestler could want.”

But Reynolds suffered a concussion early in his sophomore season and couldn’t heal fast enough to get back into the lineup. But he kept trying even through persistent concussion symptoms.

“I knew the longer I was out, the more I was going to miss,” Reynolds said. “(Oregon State head coach) Jim (Zalesky) was heavy on if you want to wrestle in the lineup, you’ve got to show it in competition. It doesn’t matter who you beat in the practice room. It was all about how we performed and I wanted to get out there and wrestle.”

Right before the holidays at a tournament in Spokane, Reynolds dreams of making a comeback were shattered when he took a knee to the face, breaking his nose and giving him another concussion.

He agreed to take a medical hardship, which meant Reynolds could keep his scholarship and finish school. But he would never wrestle for Oregon State again.

“It was a pretty low point in my life, losing what I thought was my last chance to wrestle in my life,” Reynolds said.

Wanting to stay in the sport, Reynolds reached out to his former high school coach, Jason Ebbs, about being an assistant at McNary and spent the 2016-17 season with the Celtics.

“I loved coaching to death and working with kids,” Reynolds said. “That was a big deal to me.”

Told by doctors he could never compete again, Reynolds had to take it easy.

But that didn’t last long.

“I’d wrestle more and more and then I started working out harder and I never had any symptoms,” said Reynolds, who began working out with his former club team, All-Phase Wrestling in West Linn, wrestling against the likes of R.J Pena, a former four-time state champion at Sprague and All-American at Oregon State, and Sean Harman, a two-time state champion at West Linn.

“I just felt good,” Reynolds said. “I felt amazing. Just by coaching I learned so much from the sport and as a wrestler. I decided I was healthy enough to take another run at it.”

Reynolds chose the U.S. Open Championships to make his comeback.

“It’s a funny tournament to come back out at because the best of the best are there,” Reynolds said. “I decided to throw myself into the fire.”

While Reynolds didn’t wrestle as well as he would have liked, he did get through the tournament healthy.

“I remember after the last match, I lost a close match to a really good kid and I started tearing up after the match and it wasn’t because I lost, it was because I was done wrestling for the weekend,” Reynolds said. “I loved it. I loved being on the mat again. I just felt good. I felt comfy. I was out of rhythm and I didn’t perform to my full extent but I was just so ecstatic to be back on the mat again and competing.”

The U.S. Open also turned out to be a showcase for his next stop—Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.

“It’s a complete change of lifestyle,” Reynolds said of wrestling in Iowa. “The culture out there is insane. Wrestling is on the radio. The high school tournament is on TV and it is a huge deal. If you’re a wrestler out there, everybody knows you. It’s insane. I wish that could float to here and the community would be as into it as Iowa is.”

While Reynolds no longer had headaches or any other concussion symptoms, he quickly found a new injury to worry about after tearing his meniscus in the first match of his first tournament.

Reynolds had surgery on Nov. 29, 2017. After a month of rehab and training, he tore it again but was able to wait on a second surgery until after nationals.

Wrestling at 149 pounds, Reynolds placed third at nationals to help Grand View win its seventh consecutive NAIA National Championship.

“I don’t know how I did it,” Reynolds said. “Nothing else mattered. It was just a blessing to be out there again. When I got my hardship, I did not see this happening.

“Maybe there’s some positive to taking that time off. It made me a better wrestler and a better person.”

Grand View won the championship by 64.5 points.

Reynolds said the key to Grand View’s success is not focusing on national titles but on making sure each individual wrestler is the best they can be.

“When we won it was a big celebration,” Reynolds said. “We got to get up on the big stage and take pictures and hold the trophy up and everyone was hugging and we all went to the hotel afterwards and they had a big lobby rented out and the fans were there and we all gave speeches. I’d always wanted to be a part of a team like that. It’s every kid’s dream to be a part of the biggest production of any sport you’re in.”

Joining Reynolds at Grand View this year will be another former McNary wrestler, Brayden Ebbs.

“Me and him are brothers and I’m so excited for his future,” Reynolds said. “I believe in the kid. I know that he can be a multiple time all-american national champ and I think being a part of this program will show him that.”

Completely healthy, Reynolds is ready to win his own national championship.

“I’m hungry. I’m excited. I’ve got this itch in me,” Reynolds said. “I’m going to be a national champ this year.”

Reynolds is majoring in Human Services and Psychology and would like to either join law enforcement or the military after graduation.

“I love learning about people and mental disorders and why we work the way we do because it helps me better understand myself and things you go through in life,” Reynolds said. “My biggest thing in life is I want to make an impact wherever I can so coaching is a great place to make an impact, being a college wrestler you make a huge impact on kids as a role model.”

Whatever he decides to do, wrestling, the sport that he thought was taken away from him with that knee to the face, will remain a big part of his life. He’s worked too hard for it not to be.

“There ain’t nothing that fixes that itch to wrestle but wrestling,” Reynolds said. “I hope I stay healthy enough where I can scrap with kids a long time.”