MISSOULA — Huntley Project senior Journey Grimsrud accomplished one goal when he earned a Division I football scholarship, signing with the Montana Grizzlies in December.
The heavyweight wrestler achieved a more-recent goal when he won a state title for the first time this past weekend in a sport he had no experience with until just over two years ago.
“They were pretty similar levels of excitement because I knew I wanted respect,” said Grimsrud, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound defensive lineman. “My idea of wrestling is it’s about respect. That’s what I feel going to play college football is about, because when teams want you, I feel that’s others respecting you.”
Grimsrud’s rise to becoming a state champ has been quick. He didn’t start to wrestle until his sophomore year. Huntley Project coach Tim Kaczmarek tried to get him to come out for the team since middle school but was unsuccessful until Grimsrud decided to join his friends, including fellow big man Blaine Buchanan, who helped talk him into joining.
Grimsrud and Buchanan, a senior, were training partners in practice in 2018. It was much-needed experience for Grimsrud going up against Buchanan, who went on to win the 205-pound state title with an undefeated record.
“After my first year getting my ass kicked, I was determined to come back,” Grimsrud said. “And to see Blaine win it, I wanted that same respect from the other coaches.”
The two of them continued to work together after the season. Grimsrud saw his future on the mat was brightening with all the one-on-one work.
He excelled with his aggressive, attacking style as a junior. Grimsrud went 50-7 with 38 pins.
“He’s the strongest kid by far I’ve ever coached,” said Kaczmarek, who’s coached at Huntley Project for 11 years after spending seven seasons at Billings Skyview. “He’s strong and athletic and quick on his feet. He knows how to keep pressure on guys. He’s good on his feet, but his best positioning is on top.”
Grimsrud made it to the 285-pound title match that year but lost. He was pinned by Colstrip’s Trey Yates, a Montana State football signee, feeling he let the match slip away.
It was quite the one-year jump from not even qualifying for state to placing second as a junior. But to fall short, to be anything less than the best was unacceptable for him.
“After taking second, it sucked at the moment,” Grimsrud said. “I decided I didn’t want to feel like that ever again, so I said I was going to win it the next year.”
Grimsrud was back in the school’s weight room two days after state, showing the hard work, focus and determination Kaczmarek has come to identify with him. They talked often about Grimsrud wanting to win a state title in his final season and what it would take.
“The kid’s a work horse,” Kaczmarek said. “I’ve coached a lot of kids, and there’s not many that can match his work ethic. There’s no quit in him.”
Grimsrud did even better as a senior. He put together a 45-3 season with 37 pins, beating Yates during the season but wanting redemption against him on the big stage. They were on a collision course to meet in the finals, but Yates got upset in the semifinals.
Grimsrud went on to pin Glasgow’s Mayson Phipps in the final, doing so with an important family member in attendance. His grandfather, David Madsen, flew in from Wisconsin to watch him wrestle his final few matches.
Madsen, a former Mr. Montana bodybuilder, was the one who got Grimsrud started in weightlifting. That physical work has been important in Grimsrud’s dominance as a football player, wrestler and State B discus champion.
Grimsrud felt that adding wrestling to his repertoire made him an even better football player as the athleticism, endurance and toughness translated over. He was a two-way starter on the offensive and defensive lines, earning all-state honors on both as a senior.
“Football just felt a lot easier after wrestling,” Grimsrud said. “Everything about it felt easier.”
Before coming to Montana, Grimsrud’s next goal is to repeat as the discus champ and win the shot put after placing eighth last year. As he chases those state titles and more respect in the athletic world, he’ll continue a special daily tradition off the field.
Grimsrud eats breakfast and lunch every day at school with elementary students. They’ll talk about wrestling or life or whatever is on the kids’ minds.
“I feel like it makes their day a little bit better, so why not do it,” Grimsrud said.
It’s a mindset of being a role model that he credits his mother with emphasizing.
“He’s an idol in our elementary school,” Kaczmarek said. “He has a big heart. He’s just a freakin’ good person. The kids really look up to him”
Now there’s some well-earned respect.
Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at email@example.com.
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