In the fall of 2014, longtime North Lake Middle School wrestling coach and Lake Stevens High School assistant Dean Width walked into the classroom of Devin Kylany, then a seventh-grader.
Width posed a very simple question.
“He asked me if I wanted to be a state champion,” said Kylany, now a junior at Lake Stevens High School.
“I said, ‘yes.’ He asked me how I was going to do that. I said, ‘football’. He said, ‘Well, I just want you to know that we win state championships in wrestling.’ I thought, ‘I like winning, and I like being physical, so I’ll give it a shot.’”
Kylany said he weighed about 150 pounds at the time.
Fast-forward to this winter, and Kylany, now 285 pounds, is not only a contender to win a 4A state wrestling championship this weekend at Mat Classic XXXI in the Tacoma Dome, but also one of the state’s top football recruits as an offensive lineman.
He has already received scholarship offers from Washington State and Arizona State, and fervently believes that much of his success on the football field can be attributed to what he’s learned in the wrestling room.
“If you want to be the best football player you can, you should wrestle,” Kylany said. “I was talking to the WSU running backs coach (Eric Mele), and he loves wrestlers because they’re just tough. If you get a kid who wrestles, you know he’s mentally tough, and I think sports are mostly about physical and mental toughness.”
“If somebody asks me, ‘What other sports does he play?’, when I say he wrestles they get very excited about that,” Lake Stevens football coach Tom Tri said. “They’re both combat sports that require physical and mental toughness.”
“A lot of wrestling is hand position, and a lot of offensive line is hand position,” Kylany said. “You have to get your hands in the right position, and if you leave your hands outside, you have to get them back inside right away.”
Kylany added that when he was starting out as a wrestler, he was told to get in his offensive line stance and relax his arms and legs a little bit. That would be his wrestling stance.
Matt Leonard, Lake Stevens’ defensive line coach and an assistant wrestling coach, told Kylany that if he wanted to get better at football, he needed to keep wrestling.
“And I definitely want to keep getting better at both,” Kylany said.
Lake Stevens wrestling coach Brent Barnes said Kylany has matured physically and mentally since going 1-2 at last year’s state tournament. Barnes also pointed to Kylany’s technique work with Leonard and Brandon Johnson, who in 2013 was the last Lake Stevens 285-pounder to win a state championship, as a big factor in the junior’s development.
“He’s helped me so much,” Kylany said of Johnson, who he said comes into the Vikings’ practice room three times a week to work with him. “He’s helped me become more mat savvy, and he just knows how a heavyweight needs to wrestle. He has all these little tidbits that are so tough to coach unless you’ve gone through it. He knows what I need to go through to be successful.”
Kylany will enter Mat Classic with a record of 22-5, and placed fifth in December’s Tri-State Tournament, third at the Pat Lovell Holiday Classic in California and first at Lake Stevens’ Viking Invite on Jan. 12. He will be the top seed in his quarter of the 32-man bracket at 285 pounds after winning the 4A sub-regional tournament Feb. 2.
Kylany’s game plan for Mat Classic is straightforward.
“I’m going to wrestle the full six minutes if that’s what’s needed, but mainly I’m just going to go hard,” he said. “If I wrestle smart, get a good warm-up in and get a takedown in the first round, I feel like I can beat most people. I know I can keep them down, and nobody’s keeping me down.”
“Devin is smart, has a phenomenal gas tank and is mentally tough,” Barnes said.
According to Kylany, Barnes approached he and his mom in the car after a practice early in his wrestling career and made a promise.
“He said to us, ‘I know Devin’s a football player, a football player who wrestles, but if you give him to me for three months, I can make him a state champion,” Kylany said.
With his pair of Pac-12 offers, Kylany inspires the same confidence among college recruiters after helping the Vikings to the 4A state championship game on Dec. 1, also in the Tacoma Dome. Union beat the Vikings 52-20.
“Devin’s got that length and flexibility that colleges coaches want,” said Brandon Huffman, the national recruiting editor for 247Sports.com, “and he’s nowhere near a finished product or maxed out in terms of what his body can become. Coaches like his ability, and he’s got a nasty edge, not just polish and technique.”
All those traits that have made him a sought-after offensive lineman have Kylany poised to make a run at a state wrestling championship this weekend.
“Devin loves working hard, and he’s a big believer in out-working his opponents,” Tri said. “He’s got a heck of a motor, which is a huge advantage in football and in wrestling, because a lot of times they’re both about endurance. He’s got one of the best motors we’ve had here in a long time.”