ST. LOUIS — Dean Heil had his coach on the edge of his seat for seven minutes. He was constantly in a scramble, finding himself in a awkward positions.
But inside – deep under the black swell under his left eye – he was at peace.
And now, he’s a peaceful two-time NCAA national champion for Oklahoma State.
“I could feel it in the first period, I could just sense that he had the nerves,” Heil said after beating Virginia’s George DiCamillo by 6-3 decision. “He was weak. I could just feel that he was kind of a little bit more scared and timid, whereas I thought strength.
“I could just feel that timidness, the nerves and everything that he had, whereas I’ve been there. I experienced it. And I knew what to expect. And I felt so calm going into that match.”
The calming effect came before the match against a longtime rival as Heil worked under in the tunnels under the Scottrade Center with another wrestler he was very familiar with.
Instead of warming up with a teammate, he asked his coach John Smith a question that the Cowboy coach would never say no to.
“He came and ask me if his brother could drill with him, and I said absolutely,” Smith said. “I think it was that ease created while he was drilling, felt really comfortable with it. It was a healthy thing.”
Heil’s younger brother Joshua, a freshman at Campbell University, qualified for the NCAA tournament at the same weight class. He started out in a pigtail match and lost both of his matches, but was in the tunnel awaiting his brother after winning a second national title.
It was likely the only person from a different university in the arena that was actually cheering for the now two-time national champion.
Heil mentioned after his semifinal victory Friday night the doubters and nay-sayers on social media. And the countless national predictions that didn’t have him winning a second title – or even making it to the finals to begin with.
He read those messages. And he had a message for those sending them.
“I’ll probably get messages on social media saying, you were pinned, stuff like that,” Heil said. “But who got their hand raised? That’s all that matters in my book.
“I don’t care what people say. It’s just, it motivates me. So I hope people will actually still continue it.”
While he will continue to embrace the haters, he also wants to commit himself in a different way.
After stepping off the mat as one of eight All-Americans for Oklahoma State – the most of any program at this year’s tournament – he was reminded that the Cowboys would finish third in the team standings. It’s a notion he takes personal.
He felt it after Oklahoma State was steamrolled by Penn State in a dual a month ago, and something he wants to change in the wrestling room. Now, the often soft-spoken Heil wants to be the leader he felt he should have been this season as the only national champion wrestler in the Cowboy wrestling room.
“Even in the last 30 seconds of my match, it was on my mind that Oklahoma State is too good of a program not to have some type of national championship in that room,” Heil said. “We need somebody on the mat practicing every day to motivate our guys just by leading by example.
“I knew I was the only guy with that opportunity and I needed to give that to my team. They deserved it. Even though they didn’t win one for themselves, I won this one for the team.”
And if Oklahoma State is going to make a run at a national team title in 2018, it will likely need to see Heil become a three-time national champion – becoming the third recent Cowboy along with Alex Dieringer and Jordan Oliver to accomplish the feat.
It’s a goal that he isn’t just now focusing on as he heads into the offseason before his senior year in stillwater.
“After I won my first one (last year), I was already thinking I wanted to win three,” Heil said. “In fact, even before that, when I took fourth my freshman year, I knew the next best thing was three (championships). So I’ve been thinking about it for a while.
“I’m going to enjoy this for a couple of weeks, but I’ll be back on that mat in no time just getting ready for No. 3.”