Big Ten Tie-Ups
Morton continues college career with Huskers
LINCOLN, Neb. — A little more than five years ago, Dayne Morton was finishing his senior year of wrestling for the Sibley East Wolverines with a 117-9 career high school record and a Class A state wrestling championship at 120 pounds.
Fast-forward to 2023, Morton is closing in on completing his first year of Division I wrestling with the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
“It’s been really cool,” Morton said. “It’s really fun, I really enjoy the competition and being able to test myself all the time against really, really good guys.”
Entering the world of DI wrestling is no easy feat, not even for a former state champion, but Morton has been all for the challenge. That challenge was allowed after Morton received an additional two years of eligibility on the mat.
One of Morton’s additional years is from a redshirt season he used last year, while the other is a result of NCAA’s decision to grant an additional year of eligibility to athletes impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Morton’s introduction to Huskers wrestling wasn’t immediate. He originally joined the DII Northern State University Wolves in Aberdeen, South Dakota, after graduating from Sibley East in 2018.
With the Wolves, Morton compiled a 39-15 record as he wrestled at 125 and 133 pounds.
Morton’s success with the Wolves, however, did not come without his share of injury setbacks.
“I tore my labrum in my hip my second year of college,” Morton said. “I rehabbed it back and was doing really good, then last year throughout the preseason it really started to get a lot worse and kind of started to go backwards. It just was not going well at all, and then I ended up having to have surgery on it in November.”
With his hip surgery, Morton redshirted for the 2021-22 season to extend his eligibility another year, giving him the chance to return for another year of Big Ten wrestling with the Huskers after this season.
After graduating from NSU, Morton had plans in mind to wrestle for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. However, another opportunity opened up for Morton southwest of Minnesota.
“It all kind of ended up happening really fast,” Morton said. “I was kind of planning on going to Minnesota most of the summer, because I was going to transfer from Northern because I was graduating from there. So I was planning on going to Minnesota most of the summer, and then I ended up going to the Olympic Training Center [in Colorado Springs] shortly before c
“So I ended up taking a visit shortly after and then it ended up being the right fit. I really liked it a lot and it ended up being the right fit, so I committed the day later, then I basically drove back, grabbed by stuff and drove back down because they had already started classes.”
Now healthy and wrestling at 149 for a Big Ten school, Morton’s competition is understandably the toughest it’s been. However, he’s confident in his abilities and welcomes the challenges.
“I was always practicing with Minnesota over the summer, so I kind of knew what [to expect],” Morton said. “It’s definitely another level compared to Division II, but I definitely feel like I was ready. Even though some of what I accomplished at Northern might not have showed it just because of injuries and stuff like that, but I definitely felt like I was ready to wrestle and succeed at this level.”
Morton currently has a 5-10 record, with four of his losses coming to top-ranked wrestlers like Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso and Northwestern University’s Yahya Thomas. Morton earned arguably his biggest victory of the season Jan. 13 when he defeated Minnesota’s Michael Blockus, who was ranked No. 14 at the time at 149, by a 5-4 decision.
Morton’s first year with the Wolves helped develop and train him, while his first year with the Huskers has been eye-opening when it comes to how much he’s grown.
“It’s cool to watch kind of how I’ve developed, too, and changed as a wrestler,” Morton said. “I wrestled very different now compared to my first year at Northern, just because back when I wrestled at Northern, my first year there I was mostly off the free because I was wrestling guys and I was not very strong, especially that first year at 125 when I was 18 years old, but not very physically mature. So from a physical perspective, I was lagging behind a lot of the guys and a lot of the guys at my weight at that time were fourth-, fifth-, sixth-year seniors.
“So, physically, I couldn’t really hang with them, so I had to find other ways and wrestle off the free and more misdirect-type stuff, versus now I like to get my hands on people and hand fight a lot more and I go a lot more upper-body stuff. … My first year or two at Northern, if I was in an upper-body tie, I was getting out of it as fast as I could, and now I’m trying to get there. So it’s just kind of cool to see the evolution of that, and I’m starting to get a lot better on the mat, too.”
Morton, who is currently in a graduate program, is hoping to get into Educational Psychology. He graduated from NSU with a Human Performance degree.
Nebraska’s regular season wraps up Sunday afternoon as it hosts Arizona State in a 1:30 p.m. dual. The Big Ten Championships begin March 4 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
(Photos courtesy of Nebraska Athletics)