As the lone smiling senior on the wrestling team, and an All-American candidate, 165-pound Kurt Gross is making his final season a memorable one for the Flashes.
With an overall record of 12-4, and Dual meet record at 8-1, Gross, with a grin on his face, is still steadily improving as he has done throughout his Kent State career.
His key to success: Having fun.
“I get yelled at for smiling during practice,” Gross said, with his not so typical, happy-go-lucky game-face. “I have fun when I’m out there. I want to win, but I’ve got to have fun doing it. I think that helps you in the long run.”
Coach Jim Andrassy agrees, noting that Kurt’s demeanor helps keep the team loose.
“He’s a fun guy on the team,” Andrassy said. “Regardless of what the situation is or what the time is, he wants to have fun and he tries to make guys laugh. That’s a big part of his personality.”
Gross was redshirted his freshman year at Kent State. In his first season of competition, Gross was named a Third-Team freshman All-American by Amateur Wrestling News. He tied for second on the team in wins with 21, and went 3-2 in the Mid-American Conference Championships, finishing third.
Andrassy said he knew Gross was a special wrestler when he arrived at Kent State because of his work ethic.
“A lot of times you have kids come in, and the biggest thing is getting them to realize it’s just wrestling. Everything’s the same as in high school, it’s just the guys are stronger and faster.” Andrassy said. “Kurt caught on to that real quick.”
Also, Gross is the only remaining wrestler from his original class. He said he came to Kent with nine or 10 other guys, but he was the only one who stayed through his senior season.
“It’s a sport that you have to love,” Gross said. “It’s a hard, demanding, physical sport and coach expects a lot. You never know what’s going to happen, so I’m fortunate.”
In his second season, Gross continued to improve and broke into the national scene for the first time. He posted a 29-9 record and won the MAC Championship at 157-pounds, earning him a spot in the NCAA Tournament. At the NCAA’s, Gross went on to earn one win.
Last year Gross followed the same game-plan, winning the MAC Championship for a second straight year in his weight class. He then went to the NCAA Tournament and earned two victories.
“It’s an experience that you can’t really describe,” Gross said. “It’s 18,000 fans screaming. The atmosphere is awesome, it’s why you wrestle.”
Work ethic is a major key to success at the college level for wrestling, and Andrassy said that’s just what Gross has.
“Since I’ve been here, there haven’t been too many guys that work as hard as him on an everyday basis,” said Andrassy, who has been a part of the Kent State wrestling program for 18 years. “He’s come in and put the hours in, to get the work in and try to reach his goals.”
Gross comes from a family full of wrestlers, which inspired the senior to experience life on the mat.
“Three of my uncles were wrestlers,” Gross said. “My one uncle went to John Carroll and was a national champion there. We have the tape of that and I remember as a little kid watching that and thinking it was the coolest thing.”
Since he started wrestling, losing has been almost a foreign word.
As a senior at Padua Franciscan High School, Gross went 34-1 and won the Division II state championship at 140-pounds. He then placed seventh at Senior Nationals earning All-American honors. Throughout high school Gross won three sectional titles and one district title, compiling a career record of 135-27.
His family has helped him throughout his career, but Gross credits his teammates as well as his coaches for helping him develop as a wrestler.
“You can only do so much by yourself,” Gross said. “You’re on your own out there, but to get to that spot you need people to push you. In college you need to do the small things right. They get you ready.”
Several factors played in to Gross coming to Kent State, the foremost being the Flashes’ improving program said Andrassy.
“It was a program that was up-in-coming at the time,” Gross said. “I like young coaches that are enthusiastic about wrestling. It was all the things I liked, all in one school. It was a perfect fit for me.”
This year, Gross said anything less than being an All-American is a disappointment.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Gross said. “I have to, otherwise it would be a waste of five years.”
Andrassy said a wrestler like Gross is one who will be missed by the program.
“You know what you’re going to get out of him,” Andrassy said. “Win or lose, pass or fail, he enjoys being here. He always has a smile on his face.
“He’s got the opportunity to become a three-time MAC champion,” he added. “That’s a special thing. ”
Gross and the Flashes face Pittsburgh Thursday night in Pitt’s Fitzgerald Fieldhouse, looking for revenge from last year’s upset loss. Kent State was ranked at the time, but the Panthers came in and won the overall meet, knocking the Flashes out of the Top 25.
“Last year we were ahead of them and they came in and upset us,” Gross said. “It would be great to return the favor. If we go out there and wrestle we’ll upset them.”
“We match up to them pretty well,” Andrassy said. “We have to go in there and have the guys that are supposed to step up win.”
A win over the Panthers would not only slap a smile on Gross’ already beaming face, but could also beam the Flashes higher in the Top 25.