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Mike Grey made history in a storied wrestling state

Wrestler By Chad Konecky, Special to SI.com, SchoolSports.com

For Mike Grey this spring, every day is Sunday. Or at the very least, every day might as well be Sunday.

On any morning he wishes, Grey can interrupt his drive to the Delbarton School (Morristown, N.J.) by pulling into the Rockaway Bagel & Deli on Green Pond Road and ordering up a breakfast sandwich on an everything bagel. This baby is piled high with egg and cheese and Taylor ham, otherwise known as a pork roll.

Point is, the breakfast order is typically something Grey would only think about treating himself to on a Sunday. But in the offseason following his record-setting fourth state wrestling championship, Grey is cutting himself a little slack. He's indulging just a smidge. He's flirting with -- gasp -- 142 pounds.

The 5-foot-7 Delbarton senior can pilot his Jeep Cherokee into the deli parking lot any time he wants right now because right now it's not time to wrestle. When it's time to wrestle, Grey looks like he's cut from a block of granite. And the only thing he indulges himself in is winning.

With a 158-2 career high school record, Grey is the first wrestler in state history to win four state titles, capturing championships at 103 pounds as a freshman, 112 as a sophomore, 119 as a junior and 125 as a senior. His 158 career wins and 120 career pins are also state records.

"It's still like it was when you were a kid and your coaches told you there's a time and a place for everything and when it's time to wrestle, you'd better be ready, "says Grey, who will attend perennial national title contender Lehigh University (Pa.) on a full wrestling scholarship next year. "There's no 'working your way slowly' into a wrestling match."

New Jersey is to wrestling what Indiana is to basketball or Minnesota is to ice hockey. Nobody dominates in New Jersey during every year they're in high school. There's too much competition. There are too many ways to lose.

"Nobody "has been replaced with a name, and that name is Mike Grey.

"He's the best ever, the greatest in New Jersey even if you just base it on the numbers, "says Delbarton first-year head coach Bryan Stoll, 31, a former wrestler at Duke University. "He's accomplished what was unthinkable. He's done what guys have dreamt about doing since wrestling became a high school sport in this state. And to do it in the fashion he did -- to dominate pretty much all of his opponents in four years of wrestling in New Jersey -- it's an unbelievable thing."

Grey is a living legend. A guy like that is going to want to reminisce. Talk about the past. Tell war stories.

Not Grey. He's still hungry. And not just for a pork roll.

"I just want to win and get better every day, "says Grey. "My goal is to go to college and win a national title. That's a high aim. I want to excel every time I step on the mat."

Surely, such simplicity of purpose must have gotten a little muddled as he assaulted the state record of 148 career wins this season. And once he'd passed that, Grey had the whole matter of winning four state titles hanging over his head.

One loss and the entire house of cards would come tumbling down for Grey. You can't un-ring the bell. But the pressure never got to him.

"At the end of the season, I just wrestled each match as its own competition and I didn't worry about what other people thought, "says Grey. "Do I worry about starting a new streak next year? I just want to start my career off right, train hard, do the best I can and win."

It's not like Grey's next loss will be his first -- although he's never been beaten by an in-state opponent.

As a junior at Delaware's prestigious Beast of the East tournament, he lost a sudden-victory overtime match in the 119-pound finals to Brandon High (Fla.) senior Franklin Gomez, who's now a freshman at Michigan State. As a senior at the same tournament, Grey lost a semifinal decision to Lewistown High (Pa.) 125-pounder Mike Robinson.

But, we should also mention that he's already beaten up on collegiate competition. At last fall's East Stroudsburg Open in Pennsylvania, Grey won a decision over Arizona State senior Jeremy Mendoza (who placed third in the Pac-10 this year at 125 pounds) en route to a third-place finish, losing to eventual tournament champion and Penn State sophomore Tim Haas. For a couple of reasons, Grey is pretty sure his style is well-suited for collecting points in the collegiate scoring system.

"I'm real confident riding guys, and in college you can earn a point for having a minute or more advantage in riding time, "says Grey, who went 44-1 with 37 pins as a senior. "Hopefully, I can be effective enough to get that point every single match I wrestle in college. Plus, if you ride a guy long enough, you eventually break them."

"His ability to dominate when he's on top sets him apart, "adds Stoll, a former St. Joseph's of Montvale wrestler who spent five seasons as an assistant at St. Joseph's before coming to Delbarton. "New Jersey wrestlers are known for being great on their feet, but Mike is so well-rounded that once he gets on top, the match almost always ends in a pin."

That's not to say Grey is planning to win at the college level with his same old bag of tricks. He knows he needs to evolve as a grappler.

"You can't just shoot a guy once you get to college, "says Grey, whose 13-year-old brother, Mark, wrestles at 80 pounds and already owns 13 weight-class and age-group national championships. "At that level, everybody is a former state champ. You've gotta work those guys. I'll have to use my hands more and pull them and push them and tug on their head more to tire them out. I'll have to look carefully for angles."

All that strategy is well and good. But when the time does come to wrestle at Lehigh, Grey will be best served by something other than his mat moves. At least according to his coach.

"What makes him Mike Grey is his mental approach, "says Stoll. "He's so confident in his ability. He believes he's going to win every time. That's why he couldn't be beaten."

Not even on a Sunday.

Source | Posted June 10th, 2006. Filed under Amateur Wrestling

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