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Going to the mat, not back to his old ways
He sat in the 6-by-8 foot cell without interruption from a peer or passages from a book to contemplate. Just time to grapple with his actions and how they might affect the rest of his life.
After being arrested last year for residential burglary, South Kitsap senior Josh Smeland had no shortage of opportunities to contemplate his future.
“You just do a lot of thinking in there because that’s all you can do,” Smeland said. “You think about what you could’ve done different and when you get out you just want to do everything right.”
Smeland, who wrestles in the 152-pound weight class for the Wolves, said it was his second stint in Kitsap County Juvenile Detention in less than a year. In 2010, Smeland said he and some friends were arrested when they “started a little fire and it expanded fast. We tried putting out, but it got too big.”
The more recent incident occurred when Smeland said he was “goaded” into breaking into the house of someone he knew with others.
Between the two incidents, Smeland estimates he spent a week staring at the wooden door in his cell.
Smeland, 17, said it not only has allowed him to contemplate the actions he regrets, but make sure it does not happen again.
“I can’t mess up again,” he said, adding that his records will be sealed when he turns 18 if he stays out of trouble.
That is where the mat comes in.
“I got a new phone and changed my number,” Smeland said. “I don’t talk with any of those people I hung out with before wrestling.”
He hardly would have time for that during wrestling season, anyway. It entails him showing up to school at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday for a tournament that runs into the evening. The seemingly endless sprints from the Maguire Wolf Den up the stairs to the basketball courts and back. And then into the mat room where a junior-varsity athlete is ready to grapple for his position.
“There’s crazy athletes here,” Smeland said. “You have to be working your tail off or you’re not going to be in high standing at this school.”
It is a theme Smeland knows well. Last year, he was stuck behind Cody Barich, who placed third last year at Mat Classic XXIII at 145.
“He destroyed me every single day,” Smeland said. “Some days I wanted to quit because my butt was getting kicked pretty bad.”
It has been a familiar refrain among the Wolves. Matt Foxworthy, now a sophomore heavyweight at North Idaho College, routinely was defeated in practices by 2006 state champion Brent Chriswell. Foxworthy placed second in state in ’08 at 215.
Both fit into the message of patience and hard work that coach Chad Nass tries to instill in his wrestlers.
“Josh thankfully stuck with it,” he said. “He’s now reaping all of the benefits from that.”
Smeland entered the week with a 20-5 record. One of those losses came during December in the HammerHead Tournament at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds against Kingston’s Bobby Reece, who won the 2A state championship at 140 last year.
Reece defeated Smeland 8-0.
“He had me on my back, but I didn’t give up,” Smeland said. “I could’ve just laid on my back and been pinned, but I didn’t let that happen. You’ve just got to find your happy place and keep working.”
Nass praised Smeland’s work ethic, citing South’s 42-24 win Dec. 13 against Central Kitsap when Smeland had the first pin of the match in 5 minutes, 4 seconds against Kurt Koemmpel.
“I think one of the things he brings to our team is intensity,” Nass said. “Our kids kind of rally around that when they see his effort.”
Nass, who describes Smeland as “kind and polite,” also believes he has the potential to advance to state.
“I think what he hopefully learned from wrestling is that there are people who do believe in him and he can make good things happen for him,” he said.
Smeland already has outlined his plans for when the season ends. Rather than bending wrestlers on the mat, he hopes to weld metal at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard — and install a small-block 440 engine with his stepfather into a 1970s muscle car for weekend demolition derbies.
“You build a car and mash it,” said Smeland, adding that often means scouting out dead cars along roadsides that can be purchased for $500. “It’s an adrenaline rush.”
Most of all, Smeland said he wants to stay busy to avoid past temptations. When he is not working on derby cars, he plans to freestyle wrestle and find a job once the season ends.
“My life has just changed totally,” he said. “I’m thankful for wrestling.”