ASHLAND, Neb. — Ben Stille’s opponents couldn’t gang up on him in wrestling. Only in football.
They weren’t successful in either.
Stille went undefeated his final two seasons in wrestling at Ashland-Greenwood while winning state titles. He was also All-Nebraska in football while landing a scholarship from the Huskers.
“He never seems to labor too much,” said Wahoo football coach Chad Fox. “He makes things effortless. He dominated a lot of those on the mat as well as those across from him on the line of scrimmage.”
Stille (STILL-ee) is the 2016 World-Herald Nebraska boys high school athlete of the year, the first honored from his school and the first from Class C-1 since Scott Frost of Wood River in 1993.
The 6-foot-5 and 245-pound Stille was chosen from a pool of candidates that included two top underclassmen, Division I football prospects Cam Jurgens of Beatrice, a junior to be, and senior-to-be Noah Vedral of Wahoo Neumann. Other finalists were Alec Cromer of Beatrice, Jake Bos of Columbus Scotus and Noah Fant of Omaha South.
Stille said he was pleased with his senior year.
“It was different from a football aspect. There was a lot more attention on me on the field, which made it more challenging,” he said. “Wrestling, it went according to plan.”
In each sport, he made large strides late in his sophomore year.
He had been the Bluejays’ place-kicker as a freshman, then started at receiver and cornerback as a sophomore. Then he grew, football coach Ryan Thompson said, and became a fixture his last two seasons at tight end and defensive end.
“He really flourished in those roles,” Thompson said. “He’s one of those small-town kids who did everything on the field. He really helped build our program to where it is now.”
Ashland made back-to-back visits to the C-1 finals in 2013 and 2014. In 2013, Stille made back-to-back catches for the winning touchdown in the semifinals against Columbus Lakeview. Thompson said it’s his favorite football memory of Stille.
“He caught a pass on fourth-and-15 for 27 yards and capped the drive with another catch on the next play for the touchdown,” Thompson said. “He earlier that game made a pair of long field goals.
“That game is where he really got the confidence that has propelled him since. Coming off his sophomore year, you felt he could do something special not only for the program, but for him to get to the next level.”
Wrestling coach Dan Beranek said he could see Stille was headed toward state titles as a sophomore, when he was 35-5 and finished third in Class B at 182 pounds. Two of the losses were to four-time state champ Will Schany of Blair.
“Ben, I believe, was the only person that year to take Schany down,” Beranek said. “He was on the right path. He needed that extra year. He put on a lot of size, from 180 pounds to 220, and that made a big impact. He did some spring tournaments and found some pretty good competition. He kept working hard and kept going where he needed to be.”
Beranek said Stille developed into “a different kind of heavyweight than seen in awhile.” After he went 34-0 at 220 last year, he went up to the 285 division, though far from that weight limit.
“I don’t know if he wrestled anybody stronger and at the same time giving up 40 pounds to almost everybody. I don’t think he wrestled anybody taller,” Beranek said. “The way his body is put together and his explosiveness for as big as he is, it gave people some big headaches on figuring out how to slow him down.”
Stille won his final 80 matches in high school, with his toughest competition coming from Logan Radik of Gretna in the 2014-15 season and Justin Hennessey of Waverly this past season.
Stille closed his prep career — wrestling for the final time, he says — by facing Hennessey for the fourth time last season. Stille won 9-5 to cap a 44-0 season and 142-16 career.
“I’d have to say I was relieved to have it all over with,” Stille said. “Anything else other than that would be a disappointment.”
Ashland fell short of the state finals in football last fall. The Bluejays lost their season opener in overtime to Wahoo and the district championship to Boys Town by a point during a regular season in which several players were hurt, including future college prospect Bo Kitrell. In the state quarterfinals, eventual champion Columbus Scotus slammed the Jays 36-7 to end their season at 8-3.
Stille was All-Nebraska as a defensive end, the position he’s expected to play at Nebraska. He recorded 79 tackles, including 45 solo, with nine sacks. He caught 26 passes for 415 yards and five touchdowns a year after taking 10 of his 16 receptions to the end zone while making the C-1 all-state team.
All the time getting double-teamed.
Wahoo’s Fox said Stille was too much for most teams.
“It was a tough matchup for us since we didn’t have the big kids to counter with. And coupled with his strength, it made it tough even when he was lined up at defensive end,” Fox said. “When he was at tight end or split out, in our scheme we had to make sure we’d have one if not two responsible for him wherever he was on the field.
“He garnered a lot of attention.”
Stille, the son of Kevin and Karen Stille, is the youngest of three brothers. Dennis, four years older, was a walk-on at NU. Keith went to Pittsburg State in Kansas.
Ben said he’s always been tall for his age, getting to freshman year at 6-4 and 180 pounds. Besides hitting the weights, he’s done football-specific training for speed and explosiveness.
He’s also developed his mental side compared with his first two years of high school.
“I can see the big picture now,” he said. “You don’t always recognize that when you’re younger.”
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