The top of the state wrestling podium was Nathan Janson's next destination.
Few opponents were qualified to prevent the sophomore's place among the state's elite, but two years later, the Pierz Pioneers senior still hasn't achieved his glory.
He tried. He battled and ached. He pained and fought more. But the one thing that could hold Janson back did.
Janson's shoulder became the one opponent he couldn't overcome -- so far.
"We were playing football in the Fargodome my freshman year and I hurt it on a block," said Janson. "It started hurting in my collarbone. I didn't have problems with my shoulder right away.
"That summer I went to Augsburg wrestling camp. I dislocated my shoulder there and have had problems with it ever since. It just wouldn't stay in place. It kept popping out."
Before the injury, Janson played football and baseball and wrestled. As an eighth-grader, Janson was Class 1A's third-ranked 103-pounder heading into his first state meet. He finished fourth and ended the year with a 43-3 record.
As a freshman he was the top-ranked 112-pounder. He finished third in the state individual meet and ended the season with a 44-3 record.
He was ready to claim a state title his sophomore year, but never reached the mat.
"He tried to make it back but his shoulder wouldn't stay in place," said Pierz wrestling coach Mark Jensen. "The pressure that's applied in different wrestling moves creates tremendous stress on that joint. If you get into a position where the opponent has leverage it can be very stressful on that joint."
Pierz captured its first state team title in wrestling Janson's sophomore year. Janson felt left out. He missed out on an individual state championship, too. The wrestler who did win lost to Janson 9-0 the year before.
"When I saw him win it was so frustrating," Janson said. "It was just a weird feeling."
Because of his shoulder Janson didn't play football his junior year and Pierz won the Class 2A state title for the first time. In the winter he couldn't wrestle and the Pioneers defended their state championship.
Three state team titles and a possible two individual wrestling championships slipped out of Janson's grasp.
"It was really frustrating because last year our wrestling lineup would have been rock solid all the way through," said Janson. "It was frustrating because I wasn't out there."
Janson started wrestling when he was too young to remember. He went to tournaments and camps. He won five Northland Youth Wrestling Association state championships and a freestyle national title. He set goal after goal and achieved them all.
Sports: Football, wrestling, baseball
Weight: 135 pounds
Key stats: Was 87-6 with two top five state finishes in two wrestling seasons before a shoulder injury kept him off the mat.
But his goal is to win a state individual championship. Because of his shoulder he may not get a chance.
The injured shoulder isn't his throwing shoulder, so Janson played baseball last spring for the Pioneers and played amateur baseball for the Lastrup Lakers last summer. His shoulder held up and Janson enjoyed great success in the sport. His confidence grew so he decided to try football this fall.
"It had to be tough on him," said Pierz football coach Leo Pohlkamp. "When I heard he was coming out this fall I was surprised. We knew he had the talent, but would he hold up? So far he has."
Janson has returned three punts for touchdowns and scored three more times on runs. Pierz, the top-ranked 2A football team, is 5-0.
"We knew he had speed," said Pohlkamp. "He gives us another speed back and it has really helped while Warren (Gall) is still healing. He's the quickest kid on our team. You can see it on special teams, especially kickoffs. He's 10 yards ahead of everyone because he is so fast."
With his success on the football field Janson is growing more confident about his health. Every day his shoulder holds up, Janson's eagerness to wrestle grows.
"They say it's up to me," Janson said about wrestling this winter. "If I want to go I can. I'm more confident. I'm definitely going to give it another shot. It's feeling good right now."
After the football season Janson will decide whether he will wrestle.
Jensen has remained patient with Janson's decision. He doesn't want to push Janson back if the threat for permanent damage is there. But he knows Janson's competitive nature.
"There's no doubt if he's healthy he'll contribute to the team," said Jensen. "He has the potential if his shoulder can take the pressure. This is something he's done very well at since he was a young child. We certainly would love to have him, but I don't want to endanger his future and that's the tightrope we walk."
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch. com or 855-5856.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.