Riley Gurr's path to becoming one of the most dominant 132-pound wrestlers in the state of Montana began neither in wrestling nor Montana.

Where his head gear would sit today was a more-encasing football helmet, though it left much to be desired in the completion of its duties. Undersized through much of his childhood, a 12-year-old Riley was violently planted in the grass by a bigger boy during a game of pee-wee football in Kennewick, Washington.

Concussed and confused, he wandered back to the wrong sideline.

"Mom put the foot down," said Riley's father, Shawn Gurr. "She said we need to find a sport where he's with people his own size."

Like wrestling, whose weight classes are specifically designed to pair up similarly sized competition. Less than five years later Riley has a Washington state wrestling championship to his name. Following the family's move to Frenchtown last August, the newest Bronc now has another title in his sights.

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Riley spent his first two seasons of high school wrestling at Kamiakin High in southeastern Washington's Tri Cities metropolitan area. He took second at state as a freshman at 106 pounds then first as a sophomore, going undefeated (45-0) at 113 pounds last year.

But a job opportunity for Shawn -- he works in elevator maintenance and repair -- called for relocation to Montana. He and his wife, Stefni, soon enrolled their six children in the Frenchtown School District, whose high school is but a fourth the size of Kamiakin.

Moving kids from school to school can be tough, but the Gurrs weren't worried about their second-oldest. Riley is resilient.

"We've traveled so much with the sport and met so many different people and coaches and kids, he's always been really social and adaptable," Shawn said. "I knew he'd be OK; he'd have fun wherever he's at."

It's true the Gurrs have done a fair share of traveling for wrestling. In just the past six months, in fact, Riley has competed (and placed) at both the California World Challenge in Fresno and The Freakshow wrestling tournament in Las Vegas.

Though a wrestling fanatic now, young Riley didn't take to the sport immediately. He struggled with the required body control and got tossed around by the more experienced grapplers at the USA Wrestling Club's Tri Cities chapter.

It was noteworthy just for Riley to score a takedown in a match. His long-awaited first warranted a celebratory root beer at a nearby A&W burger joint.

But the ground work was laid -- soon to the Broncs' benefit.

***

Gurr walked into Frenchtown's wrestling room as an outsider last fall. The feeling didn't last long.

"Everywhere I've went, wrestlers are pretty much the same. There's always the crazy ones, but you know what each other have been through," he said. "You can automatically connect and that helps you build a lot of friendships."

And team chemistry. Not only does the junior work on his own moves after the school day's complete, he's already lending the coaches a hand with some of the younger wrestlers.

"He came here and he's a bit different, but he's like the leader of the team," said 103-pound freshman Walker Dyer, who along with 113-pounder Jake Bibler and Gurr won Western AA Divisional titles last weekend in Dillon. "He's definitely one of the louder guys."

Loud and experienced. Gurr brought with him a wealth of background knowledge, giving Frenchtown's coaches ample raw material for molding.

Gurr, who is up two weight classes since October thanks to a growth spurt, is a studied technician, coach Long said.

"He continually improves positions throughout the match. He never takes breaks," Long said.  "If you watch him, he doesn't do a lot that's real flashy, just continues to improve his position.

"Really that's what wrestling's about. It's not about what moves you can hit, it's about moving your opponent and being able to chain from one thing to the next."

It's also about learning from your defeats as much as victories.

Gurr started the 2016-17 season as a 126-pounder, but the Broncs urged him to enter a few tournaments at 132 to face Montana's superior competition there. In December's Mining City Duals in Butte, that meant a chance to face defending Class AA champ Trae Vasquez of Kalispell Flathead.

Vasquez topped Gurr, 12-9, for the Frenchtown wrestler's only loss of the season. A month later Gurr matched up with Vasquez again in the finals of the Jug Beck Rocky Mountain Classic. This time he had the edge, shutting out the Brave in a 7-0 win.

"My technique and my skills have definitely improved way more than sophomore year, but my mentality has changed, too," Gurr said. "I was more scared to find the competition, to bump up and go against anybody. I've learned here that taking a loss isn't that big of a deal, especially if you get a chance to go back and beat that guy."

The boys won't see each other this weekend at state. Gurr competes in Class A while Vasquez and the much larger Flathead school are in AA.

With only one tournament left on the high school calendar -- Gurr wrestlers year round outside of the high school season as well -- the Frenchtown boy is hitting his stride. He won all three of his divisional matches by first-round pin last week to set himself up as the No. 1 seed in this week's state bracket at the Billings MetraPark.

He'll again weight in at 132 pounds.

"He's a tough enough kid it's not going to matter much which weight he's at," Long said. "We want him to worry about his development.

"... His goals are wrestling at the next level and to reach that it's more important to focus on the wrestling and not weight."

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