"From humble beginnings," an anonymous sage once said, "come great things."
He must have been looking over Ryan Blees' shoulder.
Last season turned out to be a breakthrough season for Blees, now a Bismarck High sophomore. He won a state championship at 130 pounds, winning his final 27 matches in the process. By the end of the season he was dominant at his weight.
However, the early stages of the season were messy - but necessary. Blees placed second at the Mandan Lions Tournament, third in the Rapid City Invitational and fifth at the Minnesota Christmas Tournament.
At that point Blees, a two-time state placer in the lower weights, was one frustrated dude.
"I had tough losses to kids I should have beaten," Blees recalled. "... Over the holidays I started working out a lot more than I had. I started lifting after practice, which I'd never done before. I looked back and realized I hadn't pushed myself as hard as I should have."
The extra workouts included morning sessions with BHS co-coach Jeff Schumacher.
Blees drew immediate dividends from his spartan training regimen. Going in seeded fifth, he defeated the fourth, first and third seeds to win the Rotary championship. His four victories included two pins and a major decision.
At that point, Blees was on his way. He didn't lose again all season.
"I knew I'd already started getting better right then," he said in retrospect. "At the Rotary I could see I was coming along. I knew if I pushed myself the rest of the year I was going to make many more steps up to the (state tournament) finals."
He got more than he bargained for in the state finals. West Fargo came charging down the stretch in the championship round of the individual tournament. West Fargo won at 103, 112 and 125 before Blees defeated the Packers' Thomas Kuehn 12-5 for the 130-pound title.
Bismarck eventually edged West Fargo 194.5 to 192 for the state tournament title. The Demons also took the dual title with a 45-19 victory over Century.
"I felt Ryan was confident and I felt his early morning workouts with coach Schumacher were coming to fruition," Knowlen said as he recalled Blees' state tournament performance.
Bismarck kicks off a new season at 7 p.m. Tuesday, hosting Mandan in a West Region dual.
Blees, who jumped two weights from 119 last season, will hop two more weights to 145 this year.
Knowlen said he has no doubts about Blees' ability to take on bigger, stronger wrestlers.
"He's put in the time and I have confidence in his skill level," Knowlen said. "Ryan is an elite wrestler. He's not a good wrestler, he's a step above that. He's like Scott Glasser. He's expected to win."
Glasser graduated from BHS in 2006 after winning five individual state championships.
Blees joined the BHS lineup as a 103-pound seventh grader in 2008, finishing fourth in the state. As an eighth grader he placed fifth at 119. Even then Knowlen was predicting great things for Blees.
"I thought that Ryan was better than two fifths. I knew eventually he's break through and he broke through last year," Knowlen said.
Blees enters his sophomore season with a ton of momentum. Between seasons he wrestled in the high school folkstyle nationals in Virginia Beach, Va.; the Junior national duals in Oklahoma City; the Cadet Greco-Roman and freestyle nationals in Fargo; and the preseason nationals in late October in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He also squeezed in a trip to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs along with Jared Reis of Napoleon and Trevor Kringlie of West Fargo.
He wrestled at 145 in the preseason nationals and got a good taste of what lies ahead. "You've just got to use your head more," he said of the two-class jump. "If you make a mistake against those tough kids it pretty much decides the match."
"I've got to work extra-hard to keep up with their strength," he added. "I'll be wrestling a majority of juniors and seniors and I've got to be able to wrestle up to that level and that strength."
Blees said 145 pounds is a good fit in terms weight maintenance. "It's a great weight for me. I know I'll feel better at this weight than the other weights I've wrestled at," he said.
As a Demons wrestler, Blees has become accustomed to being a maroon-clad target. That problem won't be quite as extreme this year. West Fargo, with 11 returning state placers and 190 returning state points, is the clear statewide favorite heading into a new season.
Bismarck, with seven returning state placers and 93 returning points is second in the point count. Williston (five returnees, 81 points); Turtle Mountain (six returnees, 74 points) and Valley City (five returnees, 64.5 points) round out the top five.
Century is seventh with 55 returning points, Mandan ranks eighth with 53.5 and St. Mary's stands 16th with 19.
"It's a strange situation to know we have to ... catch up," Blees said. "It would be nice to be the top dog right away, but it's not a horrible change. Now we know we have to work even harder."
Last season was a senior-dominated year. Blees is one of just five returning state champions. The others are Jordan Shearer (103 pounds), Kringlie (112), Anjelo Shepherd (125) and Preston Lehmann (171) of West Fargo.