Apple Valley High School sophomore wrestler Gable Steveson
R obert and Laticia Steveson were at a wrestling tournament in Fort Dodge, Iowa, 16 years ago when they kept hearing a legendary name.
Laticia, three months pregnant at the time, thought the name of the former Iowa State wrestler and Iowa coach — arguably the sport’s most renowned figure — had a nice ring to it. She decided then and there that would be the name of the couple’s youngest son. Gable Dan Steveson would be born into a wrestling family and grow up on a mat.
So no pressure.
Sixteen years later, Steveson, a sophomore, is the top-ranked 220-pound high school wrestler in the country. As a freshman at Apple Valley, Steveson won state.
This summer he won the FILA Cadet World Championship. As Steveson makes a run at a second title in this week’s high school wrestling state meet, he also has another goal on his mind.
“Be unstoppable,” Steveson said.
That’s Steveson in a shell. Confident, but with plenty to back it up.
With a 39-0 record this season, the biggest obstacle in Steveson’s way might be his own talent.
Center of attention
Steveson met Dan Gable seven years ago at a tournament in Waterloo, Iowa.
After Steveson won the tournament, he entered a line at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum to get Gable’s autograph.
When Steveson approached the table with his father and Gable heard the story, he stopped the line. He talked with Steveson, and a local TV crew came over for an interview.
It wouldn’t be the last time Steveson drew attention.
In the Apple Valley wrestling room, Steveson stands out like the elite prospect he is. He is bigger and quicker than his peers, even at a prestigious program such as Apple Valley, where Mark Hall is the top-recruited wrestler in the nation and going for a record sixth individual state title.
For coach Dalen Wasmund, the biggest challenge is finding Steveson competition.
“The toughest thing is he’s so big,” Wasmund said. “He’s a 220-pound sophomore. You’re trying to find guys not only of that ability, but also that size.”
To this point in his high school career, Steveson has dominated everyone in his path. Possibly his biggest high school victory to this point was in last year’s 3A state championship, where Steveson earned a pin in the final match to seal Apple Valley’s 36-30 win against St. Michael-Albertville. It was the Eagles’ 10th consecutive team championship.
“He’s got a swagger to him, an aura,” Hall said at the time. “I know if I was a freshman and they asked me to do that, I would have been shaking.”
Steveson isn’t taking this year’s state tournament for granted, but he does have a bigger picture in his sight. He has plans to gain weight so he can be prepared to wrestle as a heavyweight at the college level. He already is hearing from some of the nation’s top wrestling schools.
Size aside, the trait that makes Steveson great is his technique. He is big, but Wasmund said he can wrestle like a little guy. That comes as a product of his father’s teaching; Robert ran a private club in Indiana before the family came to Apple Valley three years ago.
“Everything was technique,” Robert said. “It didn’t matter what the size was. If you’re a big guy, you can wrestle a little guy because all we would practice is technique.”
Steveson doesn’t have to go far to find the type of competition he craves.
His brother, Bobby, is a recent Apple Valley graduate who now wrestles for the Gophers. The two are close, and Bobby pushes his brother as much as anyone.
At the FILA Cadet World Championship this past summer, Bobby coached his younger brother. When Steveson won a match that took him further than Bobby ever went as a prep wrestler, Steveson jumped into his brother’s arms. Steveson said they had it planned before the match started.
“It was kind of a bad jump, but he caught me somehow,” Steveson said.
Steveson also seeks training on the side with the Minnesota Fury wrestling club, which trains aspiring Olympians, including several Gophers alumni. Against national-level competition, Steveson can’t bully his way around. He has to focus on skills.
“All the guys he practices with, me included, he doesn’t beat,” Bobby said. “He either has to wrestle hard in the room or get hurt. He really has to get after it, so he doesn’t have a choice but to get better in this type of atmosphere.”
Steveson can’t always hang with the more experienced wrestlers, but he says he can hold his own against his older brother.
“He doesn’t like to admit it that I get some takedowns, but we go back-and-forth,” Steveson said.
Bobby, more of the quiet type, serves as a fitting mentor.
Steveson is a self-described “funny guy,” the kind you’re likely to find in the middle of a crowd. He has the confidence to be great, but his father and brother are there keep him in check. Bobby says he’s seen Gable became more willing to listen and learn, even studying past wrestling greats by watching videos on his phone.
Steveson is on track to do nothing but build on his early success. But again, his biggest competitor might be himself.
“You look at some guys that are that good that young, and some of them, they keep going, and some of them plateau a little bit,” Dasmund said. “What I say about him, the athleticism says he can do a lot. Kids who are that athletic have a pretty high ceiling.”
Can Steveson be confident without being cocky?
Can he continue to dominate without becoming complacent?
Can a high school kid not yet old enough for a driver’s license become unstoppable?
“I just want to be the best I can,” Steveson said. “Just keep dominating and winning every tournament like I normally do, and get to another level that no one else is on.”