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Morton Worth His Salt Wrestler Overcomes Doubts, Weight Issues To Reach Nationals

Thu., Feb. 27, 1997

The two cruelest words in wrestling lexicon are “cutting weight.”

As North Idaho College sophomore Josh Morton prepares for this weekend’s national junior college tournament in Bismarck, N.D., his career offers pointed reminders of a wrestler’s inescapable duel with the scale.

Morton wrestled at 122 pounds as a junior at Mead High School, entering the regional tournament as the top seed.

“I was cutting a lot of weight and it didn’t catch up to me until the end of the year. And I think I hit a growth spurt, too,” recalled Morton, who missed out on the state tourney. “It got to the point that when I was at regionals I was glad I lost.

“I was so tired of cutting the weight, I really didn’t care. I ended up caring later, but right then, that day, I would say I was relieved.”

He was relieved the next year, too, but for a different reason. He went undefeated at 158, a staggering jump in classes, and won a state championship.

But last year at the national junior college tournament, Morton came to another crash landing, again partly due to weight issues.

He was the regional champ at 150, but watched from the stands as two other regional placers took spots on the NJCAA awards platform. Morton failed to place.

“A little of it was weight,” he said. “The rest was putting pressure on myself. I wanted to do good for my school, my family, everyone.”

Morton’s back in Bismarck and comfortable in the 158-pound class, though lucky to be on the team. He rode out a personal tug-of-war with the sport he loves and seems primed to leave junior college as an All-American (top-eight finish).

It wasn’t the smoothest journey.

At Mead, Morton showed uncommon dedication, working out, running daily and attending summer camps.

“He competed so well and worked so doggedly at everything,” said Mead coach Cash Stone, who noted that part of Morton’s troubles as a junior were because “he didn’t go about the weight control as wisely as he could have.”

“By his senior year, he didn’t have many major weaknesses,” Stone said.

The problems was, wrestling had become Morton’s identity. Every sentence with Morton in it invariably ended with “he’s such a hard worker.” Not a slam by any means, but he felt his wrestling ability was being ignored.

“What I really wanted to do coming into this year was prove I could beat everyone,” Morton said, “and not work hard.”

That worked for a while, but the premise had obvious flaws. More than other sports, wrestling permits little compromise in discipline.

Morton skated by until Christmas break.

“I got burned out on wrestling, without really knowing it,” he said. “I was thinking about quitting.”

NIC coach John Owen had several meetings with Morton.

“Wrestling used to be the only thing in his life,” said Owen, who landed Morton as a recruit mainly because Mead graduate Seth Kernodle, a close friend of Morton’s, was on NIC’s team. “Now there are other things, which is good. But wrestling is such a tough sport, it has to be a priority.”

Owen had former NIC wrestler Jim Putman telephone Morton.

“Mainly he talked about the problems he had and that he stuck the year out,” Morton said of Putman’s advice.

Morton’s Christmas present to himself was re-focusing on wrestling. He’s been destroying opponents the last two months.

“He’s a good athlete and he’s pretty danged talented,” Owen said. “He’s wrestling as well as anyone in our room right now.”

Which brings Morton to the present. He is still searching for the balance between intensity and enjoyment, between wrestling and his outside interests.

But he has a refreshing approach.

“It’s awful to say, but I’m going to nationals not worrying about winning,” said Morton, who gave up basketball as a youngster because he was an admitted ballhog.

“I’m trying to just go out and wrestle, because I know if I wrestle my best, I’m going to win.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: NJCAA TOURNAMENT

When Friday, first round 8 a.m. (PST); championship quarterfinals, 4:30 p.m. Saturday, semifinals 8:45 a.m.; consolation finals, 11:30 a.m.; championships, 5 p.m.

Where Bismarck-Mandan Convention and Visitors Bureau, Bismarck, N.D.

Defending champion Lassen College.

At stake Top eight earn All-America status.

NIC entries 118 pounds - Dan Vega, 26-10. 126 - Tony Gomez, 25-7. 134 - Jessie Schaeffer, 37-8. 142 - Ben Shane, 43-9. 150 - Mark Janke, 16-5. 158 - Josh Morton, 16-5. 167 - Jason Moaney, 28-5. 177 - Trevor Prangley, 33-11. 190 - Josh Clausen, 43-5. Hwt. - Aaron McArthur, 33-13.

Quick pins North Idaho College has finished third or better in every tourney since 1981. Seven Cards went to nationals last year when team finished distant second to Lassen.

Coach’s comment “My biggest concern is to try to match Lassen’s individuals. They have the ability of getting five into the finals. I’d like to be able to match and be able to wrestle well in the back-door matches.” - NIC’s John Owen.

This sidebar appeared with the story: NJCAA TOURNAMENT

When Friday, first round 8 a.m. (PST); championship quarterfinals, 4:30 p.m. Saturday, semifinals 8:45 a.m.; consolation finals, 11:30 a.m.; championships, 5 p.m.

Where Bismarck-Mandan Convention and Visitors Bureau, Bismarck, N.D.

Defending champion Lassen College.

At stake Top eight earn All-America status.

NIC entries 118 pounds - Dan Vega, 26-10. 126 - Tony Gomez, 25-7. 134 - Jessie Schaeffer, 37-8. 142 - Ben Shane, 43-9. 150 - Mark Janke, 16-5. 158 - Josh Morton, 16-5. 167 - Jason Moaney, 28-5. 177 - Trevor Prangley, 33-11. 190 - Josh Clausen, 43-5. Hwt. - Aaron McArthur, 33-13.

Quick pins North Idaho College has finished third or better in every tourney since 1981. Seven Cards went to nationals last year when team finished distant second to Lassen.

Coach’s comment “My biggest concern is to try to match Lassen’s individuals. They have the ability of getting five into the finals. I’d like to be able to match and be able to wrestle well in the back-door matches.” - NIC’s John Owen.



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