JUNEAU — Ryan Neu doesn’t blend into the crowd. Not even close.
He sticks out like a swimsuit sale in February.
But then again he’s not just any old wrestler, either — he’s ranked No. 1 in Division 3 at 170 pounds, according to Wisconsin Wrestling Online, and he entered this weekend’s WIAA individual state tournament at the Kohl Center in Madison sporting a spotless 38-0 record and with a target on his back the size of Dodge County.
So the Dodgeland junior’s one-of-a kind way about things is rather fitting, really.
“He’s very comfortable in his own skin,” Dodgeland coach Josh Engel said. “He doesn’t necessarily put a whole lot of stock into what people think or say about him; he’s a good role model that way.
“He doesn’t get caught up in the normal teenage perception game that can be played, so he’s a little bit more mature in that aspect.”
Neu — who got a bye in Thursday’s prelims by virtue of being a sectional champion and will face either Chase Beinborn (38-10) of Boscobel or Isaac Banker (40-7) of Bonduel in this afternoon’s quarterfinals — isn’t all talk though.
On Christmas Eve, he put some action behind his belief that it’s important to be yourself.
“I try to preach to people that it doesn’t matter what you look like, people are going to respect you for who you are as a person, not what’s on the outside,” he said. “I had a hard time trying to get that message across so I bleached my hair, and people don’t think of me any different.”
He made his point. And it was just another in a long list of ways Neu — who finished fourth at state a year ago competing at 152 pounds — has demonstrated that it’s OK to be different than the rest.
“He keeps you on your toes,” his mother Melissa Neu said. “We have a saying in our house, ‘Ryan is Ryan.’ (But) he’s a very caring person — he cares a lot about other people’s feelings.”
Much of the reason he is that way is because he doesn’t have much of an in-between — he’s either all-in, or he’s not interested.
“When he sinks his teeth into something, he becomes very, very passionate about that,” Melissa said, adding that a few years ago when Ryan was eying up the possibility of owning an ice cream truck he went so far as to do all the math on what he needed to charge in order to turn a profit.
It was serious business to Ryan. But make no mistake, he’s far sillier than he is straight-laced.
“He’s a goofball,” Engel said with a laugh when asked to pick one word for Ryan’s personality. “He’s a pleasure to be around.”
Of course, the whole process has been all the more fun for everyone — Ryan, his coaches, his family, and his friends — thanks to all of his success on the mat.
And the reason the wins have mounted up over his career — he’s at 121 and counting — is because Ryan isn’t satisfied with anything less than his best. He can take losing just fine, but living with the idea that he had more to give? That’s not an option.
So he’s constantly fueling his competitive drive.
Consider this story example A:
“We usually run a half-mile after practice. We start in the mezzanine, we go through the high school, we go through the middle school, we run across here and cut all the way through the elementary and we pop out over there. We went back and measured it out — it’s called the Dodgeland half-mile,” Neu said Saturday standing in the school’s cafeteria after winning the sectional title. “Toward the end of the season, I always give everyone a minute head start and I sprint the entire thing — and I want to finish first.”
“There’s a couple times where I don’t, but most of the time I’m always booking it. It’s about 50-50 if I take first or not — it depends on how everyone else is feeling that day,” he said. “But it’s always a nice challenge.”
Indeed, only it’s not quite as tall an order as the one he faces this weekend.
Regardless, he’s got the skill-set and the right attitude to get the job done.
“He’s very comfortable pushing beyond his previous limitations — or perceived limitations — (so) he’s (always) pushing himself and pushing himself and pushing himself,” Engel said. “He does things that I would typically yell at other wrestlers for doing, but he’s experienced enough and he’s talented enough to where he can pretty much do anything.
“He’s got all the physical attributes and he’s got all the mental attributes that are necessary to be a champion.”