David Gross’ debut at the New England interscholastic wrestling championships two years ago ended barely after it started due to a dislocated kneecap.
His return to that meet on Saturday in Providence, Rhode Island, extended through the very last second of the competition.
Gross, a junior at Bucksport High School, became what is believed to be the first grappler in school history to place among the top six at the New Englands. He advanced to the heavyweight championship match where he dropped a 5-4 decision to Matteuz Kudra, a senior from North Attleborough, Massachusetts, who will be wrestling on full scholarship next winter at the University of Virginia.
“I just couldn’t take him down. He was 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, a hard guy to wrestle,” Gross said. “I’m not used to facing that kind of height. He was four or five inches taller than me.”
Gross, the reigning Maine Class B and all-classes champion at 285 pounds, went 3-1 at the New Englands. Kudra was among three of his opponents who will compete in NCAA Division I athletics next year.
“It’s that reassurance that even if you’re from a small town you can still compete with anyone no matter what,” said Gross, who finished his junior season with a 33-1 record. “It’s what you put into it.
“I had a lot of compliments on my conditioning. A lot of people told me I was the best-conditioned heavyweight there. That was kind of cool.”
Gross opened by pinning Brooks Jones of Wayland, Massachusetts, that state’s Division III wrestling champion and a Brown University football recruit, with only 10 seconds left in their match.
He then scored a 7-2 decision over freshman Matt Weiner of Shelton, Connecticut, to reach the semifinals, where he outlasted Grant Lewis of Xaverian High School of Westwood, Massachusetts, by pin at 8:20 of a match that extended into four overtimes.
“He was trying to stand up and I caught his leg and put him back down on his back,” Gross said of his marathon bout with Lewis, who will join the University of Massachusetts football program as a preferred walk-on next fall. “He had stood up on me earlier in the match without a problem and everybody was worried he’d do it again.”
Gross came up one point short in the final against Kudra, but he was satisfied with the quality of his comeback from the dislocated kneecap he suffered at the 2017 New Englands. He also has battled back after a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a partially torn meniscus and a torn medial patellofemoral ligament suffered in his left knee during a preseason football scrimmage later that year.
Gross played through that injury to earn first-team All-Little Ten Conference honors on both offense and defense as a sophomore, and he was named the league’s 2017 Bob Carmichael Defensive Lineman of the Year while helping the Golden Bucks reach the conference championship game.
Gross, who in 2017 had won the Class B heavyweight wrestling state championship and became the first Maine freshman to win the 285-pound weight division at the state’s all-class New England qualifying meet, was unable to defend those titles last winter.
Instead, he underwent knee surgery on Feb. 9, 2018, then endured several months of rehabilitation before returning to athletic competition midway through the football campaign.
Gross helped Bucksport return to the LTC championship game last fall and again was named first-team all-conference on both offense and defense and was honored as the LTC’s Toogie McKay Defensive Lineman of the Year.
His performance on the wrestling mat this winter, which included an undefeated record against instate competition and a state-record pin in only four seconds, has left the Division I football and wrestling prospect looking at his athletic future optimistically.
“There are a lot of people who have this injury and don’t make it back and are never what they were before, said Gross, who plans to compete for Bucksport’s outdoor track team for the first time this spring.
“So to come back and be way better than I was, it’s a blessing.”