By CONOR NICHOLL
Norton senior Gavin Sproul has two tweets high on his Twitter timeline. The first showed his commitment to Fort Hays State University football on Jan 8. Sproul achieved a longtime goal when he signed with the Tigers.
The second one came on Feb. 27. It shows Sproul and longtime Norton wrestling coach Bill Johnson with big smiles at the Class 3-2-1A state meet at Fort Hays State University’s Gross Memorial Coliseum. Sproul enjoyed a sizable improvement this winter, finished 36-2 and won the 220-pound state championship.
Sproul, like Beloit senior Hunter Prochaska (also a SIK Nex-Tech Wireless Athlete of the Month), was not the favorite entering state. Sproul had qualified for state as a junior, though did not place. He was a combined 50-32 the previous two seasons. This year, he opened state with a fall in 55 seconds against Douglass’ Joe Martin. Then, he defeated Phillipsburg’s Brock Buresh, 8-0, in semifinals.
In the championship match, Sproul held off Marysville’s Jack Lott with a 9-3 decision. Lott went 35-2 and ranked first entering state. Sproul stood second, and Buresh fourth. Boys’ wrestling has four classifications: 6A, 5A, 4A and 3-2-1A. The top-four weights are 182, 195, 220 and 285.
Of the 16 champions at those four weights, 13 were ranked No. 1 entering state. Shortly after the match completed, Sproul gave credit to Johnson and the staff. Johnson has 11 team titles, second-most in Kansas history, and is well-known for significant one-year improvements with wrestlers.
“Coaches believing in me,” Sproul said. “Telling me what to do, helping me through this. Get me in shape, and then my teammates pushing me, and just wrestling.”
Sproul and junior 126-pounder Kolton Field led Norton to a fourth-place showing with 54.5 points. Field finished 34-2 and captured his second straight state championship. Field became the first Norton wrestler to win two titles since John Risewick (2010, ’13) and Landon Keiswetter (’10, ’11), per the Kansas HS Wrestling database.
Sproul, listed at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, lost to just one Kansas wrestler this winter. Sproul called 220 “very open this year.”
In the preseason, Sproul was fifth at 195 from the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association. The 220 preseason had Osage City’s Dane Whalen, Southeast of Saline’s Sterling Harp, and Perry-Lecompton’s Hayden Robb as the top-3.
Whalen eventually moved to 285 and posted an undefeated record for his second consecutive title. He earned a state powerlifting title in March and was a multi-year all-state football player. Harp elected not to wrestle, focused on football, and signed with NAIA Concordia (Neb.). Robb, the SIK 3A Defensive Player of the Year, and P-L moved to 4A. Robb wrestled at 285.
After the usual early-season weight shuffling, Sproul was ranked third just before Christmas behind Whalen and Republic County senior Quintin Beeson.
As of Feb. 16, Beeson stood first, Lott second and Sproul third.
“There were some really good athletes,” Sproul said.
He took a fall against Smith Center’s Jake Sasse en route to a third-place finish at the Norton J.R. Durham Invitational on Jan. 9.
Sproul lost to a Nebraska wrestler at the University of Nebraska-Kearney Midwest High School Duals on Jan. 22. He later captured league, district, regional and sub-state titles, including an 8-7 win in the sub-state championship versus Beeson on Feb. 20.
“I always thought I could do it, just believed in myself and (Johnson) believed in me,” he said.
Sproul is quite close with his first cousins, Hayden and Judson Wiltfong, both former highly accomplished Norton athletes. The Wiltfong brothers, in attendance at state wrestling, are currently on the FHSU football team. Hayden placed fifth, fourth and second at state wrestling in high school, and Judson was fourth in 2020. Judson was a former SIK 2A Defensive Player of the Year.
“We always talk, hang out, always dreamed about playing together in college, and then hopefully make it onto the next level together,” Sproul said.
Sproul was part of another large contingent of western Kansas athletes to sign with Fort Hays football. Known primarily for defense, Sproul delivered 226 tackles, 44 for loss and 11.5 sacks in his career.
Norton’s season was thwarted some from COVID-19, but the Bluejays still posted a 4-3 mark and won the Mid-Continent League with a 4-0 mark. Norton beat rivals Smith Center and Phillipsburg by a combined seven points. It marked the first time the Bluejays defeated both rivals in the same year since ’14, according to the Kansas Football History database.
In addition to Sproul and the Wiltfongs, Fort Hays currently has freshman defensive back Kade Melvin, a former Norton Shrine Bowler, on the roster. Norton wide receiver/athlete Jonah Ruder also signed with the Tigers this winter. The Melvins, Sprouls and Wiltfongs were among the Norton families that came to Fort Hays football’s spring scrimmages/games in March at Lewis Field Stadium.
“It gets me excited,” Sproul said. “I am glad to be back with my buddies from Norton, my cousins especially. Just having the Norton family back together on the football team.”
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