KALISPELL – Payton Hume isn’t one to back down from a challenge.

“I have a lot of people coming for me and I’m excited,” he said of the upcoming state tournament.

The Kalispell Flathead senior 170-pound wrestler drew serious expectations this season after finishing runner-up at 152 pounds at last year’s all-class state wrestling tournament in Billings. Hume wasted little time getting back on the mat after that title match, setting out to chase his first state championship this year.

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“I went over to Denver and got second at the Rocky Mountain National Tournament. I did pretty well out there,” said Hume. “The only kid I lost to was a Fargo all-American. That was fun. I kind of traveled all over the place wrestling. I went over to Washington. I had fun wrestling all throughout the summer with my team.”

It was those offseason events – including the runner-up finish at the Monster Match Nationals and the championship win at the Cosmic Clash in Denver – that kept Hume sharp and prepared for his senior campaign. Those tournaments also allowed him to continue studying other wrestlers, watching their strengths and emulating their style.

“Oh, for sure. When I go to those tournaments I’m watching those kids constantly, learning new moves and looking at kids’ different ways of doing stuff. I learn all the little techniques and integrate them into mine,” he said.

“Payton Hume has been working so hard, putting in 12 months on the mat,” added Flathead wrestling coach Jeff Thompson. “Payton is a kid that loves wrestling. He loves to compete. He loves the science of the sport and the art of the sport, but he’s always trying to get better. He stays after practice and he’s putting in time before school. He is kind of that definition of the kid you want on your team because he’s that leader, a leader by example.”

Humble and determined, Hume also holds extra motivation. Two years ago, the then-No. 1 138-pound Hume wasn’t allowed to compete at the state tournament after it was ruled he had not satisfied an MHSA rule requiring wrestlers to weigh in at a particular weight class for at least half the season.

It was a disappointing ending to an incredible sophomore season, but one that has driven him to where he is today.

“It was amazing. I was looking forward to (wrestling) that entire next year, basically. I was training hard to get back to where I was and even better, trying to retake that spot I missed being able to take,” he said. “It was pretty crazy. I really didn’t expect that much to come out of it. I thought it would be a small, little thing, but I was so happy with all the support I got. It may have not changed anything, but it really kept me going.”

Now, only four consecutive wins stand between Hume and the top spot on the podium at Montana high school athletics’ biggest stage.

Beyond the passion to capture that gold medal in Billings, Hume is your run-of-the-mill 18-year-old student-athlete.

“I like to hang out with my friends, the average stuff,” he said. “I try every sport I can, really. I’ve done golf, soccer, basketball, baseball, football, every sport you can think of. I love playing, love being part of teams. I really couldn’t rank it that well. I would say I was the worst at either golf or basketball. My best besides wrestling was football.”

The two sports that involve the most strength and contact. Go figure.

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