AURORA | When it was over, Grant Neal let it all out.
The Regis Jesuit senior capped his late-blooming high school wrestling career with his second straight Class 5A state championship — with a 7-3 victory over Smoky Hill’s Dexter Bess in an all-Aurora 220-pound final — then turned and roared in front of the packed house at Pepsi Center.
Leaning back and pretending to rip open his singlet in one cathartic gesture, Neal let loose a wide range of emotions after the perfect end to a season that was dominating, yet also trying for him. Fulfilling the wish of his late grandfather — who passed away midseason — Neal became a complete wrestler and separated himself with a 39-0 campaign in which he was rarely challenged.
“It was like all the emotion came out of me; there was so much emotion this season and so many people I wanted to win it for,” Neal said afterward.
“There’s so much family and just things in the background that I had to let it all out.
“It was finally here and that was kindof my goodbye.”
Neal most wanted to win another state championship to honor his late grandfather Lester Napue, who died on Christmas Eve, leaving a hole in Neal’s heart midway through the season.
With the help of tightknit family and the Regis Jesuit brothers he loves being a part of, Neal pushed through the pain and absolutely dominated the rest of the season, capping it with a title.
“My grandfather was a really important person to me; he instilled that heart and that fight and go get it attitude,” Neal said of his grandfather, a longtime concrete layer in Downtown Denver.
“Before he passed, he told me to go win it all. He got to see me last year and and this year, the words I remember him saying were ‘go win it all.’ So I just really put my mind to it, drilled what the coaches said and used that extra boost that family gave me, because family is so important.”
Rick Schultz took over the coaching reins of the Regis Jesuit program this season and knew the type of special athlete he had in Neal, who won last season’s 195-pound state championship.
Schultz helped Neal to become even better and improve his technique to add to his uncommon blend of strength and athleticism.
The result was a dominating season that inevitably ended with Neal joining B.J. Sanchez (1993, 1994) and John Crowley (2010, 2011, 2012) — Aurora’s only ever three-time state champion — as Regis Jesuit’s multiple state wrestling champions.
“I think since his match at UNC with Lancelot (in December), Grant just honestly knew that nobody can compete with him in this weight class,” Schultz said. “He just never has a doubt, he just imposes his will and does what he wants to.”
Neal now looks forward to his next step, a football career at Colorado-State Pueblo, where he also might wrestle. Whatever he does, he expects to do it well.
“To win again was an accomplishment; now I have to set new goals,” he said. “It’s a good feeling when you know you can set new goals for the future. My future’s not done and I’m determined to succeed in whatever I do and wherever I end up.”
Neal will graduated, but Regis Jesuit is also set up to succeed in the future.
Six Raiders qualified for the state tournament and three ended up on the medal podium, as junior Logan Ronan finished fourth at 145 pounds and freshman Trenton Schultz ended up fourth at 160 pounds.
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel
GRANT NEAL’S PATH TO 5A 220-POUND STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
Championship: Neal dec. Dexter Bess (Smoky Hill), 7-3
Semifinal: Neal pinned Tyler Zook (Grand Junction), 4:13
Quarterfinal: Neal pinned Daniel Chavez (Pomona), 2:20
First round: Neal pinned Zach Summers (Douglas County), 2:20