Justin Thomas was a staple in the Des Lacs-Burlington wrestling program since he was in eighth grade.
Now a graduate destined for Minot State, where he hopes to play baseball, Thomas capped his high-school career last spring in the best way he could, winning his first and only state championship.
But even after his farewell, title-winning campaign, the accolades kept rolling in for the DL-B senior. In May, Thomas became one of 30 nationwide wrestlers to be receive a Wrestling USA Magazine All-America honorable mention.
Tim Chapman/Pierce County Tribune
Des Lacs-Burlington’s Justin Thomas celebrates following his title-winning victory over Carrington senior Patrick Freeman in March. A four-time state qualifier, the win gave Thomas his first and only state championship.
"I actually didn't even know I got it until the last day of school," Thomas said. "My dad heard about it, but he heard about it wrong and thought it was all-state and not All-American. So I didn't have a clue until they announced it on the last day of school, they said I was an All-American. They thought I knew and I had no idea."
Though he is one of three DL-B wrestlers to win a state title, he is the first in school history to receive the national distinction. He is also one of three Class B wrestlers to garner the same award, joining Central Cass' Austin Rutt and Lisbon's Dylan Urbach.
"It was kind of shocking," Thomas said. "I didn't think I'd get anything like that being a Class B wrestler in North Dakota."
Thomas finished his high school career with a 169-56 record, including 79 falls. He placed four times at the state tournament, including a runner-up finish in 2013.
"When you look at other kids from around the state, the ones that they select have had a history of winning careers, not only just this last year," DL-B coach Aaron Huck said. "He's had a winning career since he was an eighth grader, and when you look at his total stats, that's what they were looking at."
Involved with the DL-B varsity squad for so long, Thomas's experience translated into leadership.
Huck named Thomas a captain before the start of his sophomore season, a role he commanded for the remainder of his high-school career.
"(Justin) was always a leader for the team," Huck said. "One of the biggest things about him is that he never quit. No matter how tough of a season he had or how tough his competition was, it seemed like he always carried a positive attitude, especially in his last year.
"Typically, you don't have captains that are that young, but he had to fill that role early on in order for him to lead the team."
Now DL-B is faced with the task of replacing Thomas, a difficult notion considering its roster will contain just two seniors in 2014-15.
Thomas is confident that his former teammates will continue to succeed on the mat without him. In fact, he plans to stay involved as often as he can.
I'm still good friends with all the younger kids, and I'll still be in the room helping them out a bunch," Thomas said. "But I think they'll be alright, they've got a lot of talent coming up."
As for Thomas' future in wrestling, he's indicated that baseball is his preferred sport and will not pursue wrestling at the collegiate level.
Currently playing with the Burlington Bulldogs in Class B American Legion, Thomas hopes to play baseball for the Beavers in the spring.
Joe Mellenbruch covers legion baseball and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.