| Then-No. 7 Gross knocked off No. 2 Kaid Brock of Oklahoma State
in front of Brock's home crowd.
Photo: Bruce Waterfield, OSU Athletics
As the highest-ranked Jackrabbit ever on the Division I level, Gross can be found anywhere in the rankings from No. 2 to No. 5 at 133 pounds, with a 21-1 overall record and an astounding 19 wins by bonus points. He’s also knocked off some top competitors.
College wrestling seems to be going well for the sophomore, something he wasn’t sure he’d have another shot at after being released from Iowa’s wrestling program in 2015.
Gross was wrapping up his redshirt season with the Hawkeyes, when he and two other freshman were arrested on alcohol-related charges, ultimately ending their careers at Iowa.
“I moved back home to Minnesota, and didn’t really have a plan of what I was going to do. I started working at home and I talked to a few schools here and there and it didn’t sound like they were going to let me in right away,” Gross said.
He was then told to reach out to South Dakota State head Chris Bono. It all happened so fast.
Gross emailed Bono, and within 10 minutes he received a reply, inviting him to check out campus. The former Hawkeye was in Brookings, S.D., the next day.
Just a couple of days after his visit, Gross decided to suit up with the Jackrabbits for the 2015-16 season.
He admits there was a little bit of adjusting going from Iowa’s wrestling room to South Dakota State’s.
“I think the biggest difference for me going from Iowa to SDSU was that at Iowa pretty much everybody on the team was ranked in the country and there was a little less structure in the room because there were more on-your-own workouts because there were a lot of super talented guys. Coming here, the workouts were a lot more structured. The coaches are on our butts every day to make sure we’re going super hard, and I think that helped push me a lot more,” he said.
Despite a tougher environment, Gross settled in nicely with his new teammates and coaches, especially Bono.
“He’s been a huge part of where I’m at right now. Obviously, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him,” Gross said. “The thing that I like is that he’s not easy on me at all. If he sees me slacking a little bit in anything, he calls me out. It’s the same for practice, class or bible study. He’s really kept me accountable in making sure I’m striving to do my best in every area of my life. I think that’s been awesome for me.”
As a redshirt freshman, he compiled a 26-14 record, including 12 dual wins. He wrestled his way into the Big 12 finals, where he fell to eventual 141-pound NCAA champion Dean Heil of Oklahoma State. At the NCAA tournament, Gross was just one win away from All-American status, falling in the round of 12.
“I was a little disappointed in my performance that year,” Gross said. “I started off real slow and ended up doing well, but I was still disappointed that I fell short of All-American. I think at the end of the year it just gave me motivation and confidence that I could beat anybody in the country. It gave me a fire going into the summer and this season.”
The summer he spent training freestyle and won the spot on the U.S. Junior World Team at 60 kilograms, earning him the chance to represent the U.S. at the Junior World Championships in Macon, France.
He fell in the first round and eventually finished eighth among the best 17-20-year-olds in the world.
Gross identifies the summer-long focus as a key to his success so far this year.
“I think just being here and working out all summer really got me to the next level,” Gross said. “With my wrestling, I think the big thing was that I just go out there and try to score points. Last year, I wrestled a lot more defensively and I just tried to win matches. This year, I try to go out and score as many points as possible. That’s made a lot of difference for me. I just go out there with nothing to lose. All but two of my wins I’ve been able to get bonus points on guys. If a guy scores a few points on me, I know I can score a few on him, too.”
This collegiate season, Gross has kept the 133-pound class on its toes, taking down No. 20 Mitch McKee and No. 12 Earl Hall.
Most recently, Gross added a win over then-No. 2 Kaid Brock of Oklahoma State to his resume.
“I honestly didn’t wrestle my match there. I just put a good ride on him that was able to slow him down quite a bit,” Gross said. “I think the biggest thing that gave me confidence in that match was knowing that even when I didn’t wrestle my best match, I was able to get it done. I think I can do even better next time I wrestle him. He beat a two-time NCAA finalist a week before that so it shows me that I can beat anyone in the country. It makes me want to work even harder.”
Gross’ win lit up the wrestling world and made the rankings a little more interesting, with several top wrestlers having wins over other top wrestlers. The undisputed No. 1 wrestler in the weight is Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello, who won the NCAA title at 125 pounds in 2015.
The way the weight has been working out, it appears that a number of 133-pounders have a shot at the finals and even the national title.
“I think it’s super exciting,” Gross said. “A lot of weight classes have a couple guys who are expected to be in the finals, and with 133 there’s a lot of attention surrounding it because really anybody could win it. For me, it makes it a lot more fun. I read stuff online where people say ‘oh, Gross could never hang with those guys’ or that I would get majored by Brock. I just like being able to prove people wrong.”
As he continues to write his comeback story with an incredible season, Gross said he will maintain focus until March in hopes of finding himself at the top of the NCAA podium.
“It’s going to come down to who’s ready in March. I just have to keep doing every little thing right until that time. It will make the difference.”
Gross and the No. 19 Jackrabbits will be back in action Feb. 3-4, hosting a pair of Big 12 foes, No. 15 Oklahoma and Utah Valley.