The doctor is in
NEW CARLISLE — Growing up in a family of doctors — his mom Nita and her two brothers are all in the medical field — Grant Johnson had a pretty good idea what he wanted to do at a young age.
“My mom’s a pathologist, so she has a microscope at home,” Johnson said. “I’d go in her office and look at cells. I thought it was neat. I got interested in it.”
With a 4.1 grade point average and a schedule filled with Advance Placement classes, the New Prairie senior knows education is his path to success in life. He’ll major in biochemistry with an eye on possibly going to medical school.
Wrestling has been a long-time passion for Johnson as well. His dad was a high school state qualifier in Pennsylvania and Grant started in the NP youth club at the age of six or seven. Success on the mat, however, didn’t come quite so readily as in the classroom.
“What’s really something neat, I coached all these kids through elementary school,” said Cougars coach Bobby Whitenack, who also coaches the elementary program. “I watch them evolve, develop into wrestlers. Some kids, it happens naturally. They’re good right away. They don’t have to work for it. Those kids aren’t as fun to coach. Grant pushed himself. He made himself into a good athlete. He’s worked his way up.”
At 6-foot-3 and about 195 pounds, Johnson looks more like a basketball or football player, though he did little or none of either. Much to the chagrin of Whitenack, a Cougars assistant football coach, Johnson chose cross country over the pigskin after eighth grade.
“We tried to get him (in football),” Whitenack said. “He’s a strong kid for a kid who runs cross country. He would have been successful anywhere.”
After seeing limited varsity action as a freshman, Johnson broke into the lineup as a regular his sophomore year, winning 30 matches. A mainstay last season, he had his hand raised in 43 matches, reaching the semistate, making the goal for this winter clear cut.
“It’s more fun when you’re winning,” Johnson said. “It had a snowball effect. I was just enjoying it more. I started working harder, going to camps. Things really started coming to me. I’d like to place at state this year.”
The angular build makes for its own set of challenges for Johnson, though his leverage edge presents an obstacle for opponents.
“Going against strong kids, it has to be about technique,” he said. “I definitely have the strength to compete. That’s not an issue. I’m skinnier, but I’m faster. I like being quick, attacking the legs.”
A light 195, Johnson is 12-1 on the early season.
“I don’t think I’m satisfied with any aspect of my wrestling,” he said. “I can improve my technique everywhere. I like to be strong on my feet. That’s where I feel comfortable. It’s just making sure I’m strong on bottom, being able to get out and get away. That was a weakness last year for sure. I put in a lot of work on that to get better at it.”
As it is with his academics, putting in the work has never been an issue for Johnson in practice.
“He’s a great kid as far as the classroom, the weight room,” Whitenack said. “He’s a great leader in the wrestling room. He does all the little things right. That spreads to his teammates. Guys like him, they push each other and that makes us a better team all around. He’s able to show that experience now, so it really pays off. He’s got a great opportunity to have a successful season.”
Johnson’s hopeful he can combine his academic and athletic endeavors in college, potentially at Wabash, which has strong programs in pre-med and wrestling.
“Grant’s going in with the right idea, that it’s education first,” Whitenack said. “He’s a young senior. His limit is really up there. He’s got a lot more upside. As he develops physically more, gets stronger, he’s going to get better and better every year.”