SIDNEY — Throughout the storied history of the Sidney Eagles’ wrestling program, which includes nine Class A state championships, only two wrestlers have ever captured four consecutive titles in high school — Jesse Obergfell from 2004-2007 and Gresh Jones from 2012-2015.
Jones, who started his collegiate career at the University of Minnesota, enters his junior season at Dickinson State as the No. 2 wrestler in the NAIA at 133 pounds. Last winter he earned all-American honors with a fourth-place finish at the prestigious NAIA championships.
MTN Sports caught up with Jones back home in Sidney during the summer, when the former Eagles’ champion was helping coach Guy Melby during the 31st annual Sidney Eagles Wrestling Camp, discussing his high school championships, college goals and the relationship he has with his brothers — Jett, who is still in high school, and Trace, who competes in football and track and field at Dickinson State.
MTN Sports: Take us through the timeline, what you’ve been up to since you left Sidney.
Jones: “Since I left Sidney I went a year and one semester at the University of Minnesota, I took a redshirt year my first year at Minnesota, then my next year there I was second in line at 133 pounds behind Mitch McKee, who was an incoming freshman. He got the spot and at the start of that year they dropped the physical education program that I was in out there, I was taking exercise science and I was liking it, but I was like, ‘This is a little tougher and I’m not doing quite as well with grades,’ where I had been doing really good in the beginning with the physical education. Then I heard my little brother wanted to go to Dickinson State (North Dakota) and me and my little brother are insanely close, both of us, I have two little brothers, Jett, who’s grinding out here (during Sidney’s summer wrestling drills), and Trace, who is at Dickinson playing football and track. He’s living with me and everything, so we’re super close. He called me up and said, ‘I’m either thinking about (the University of) Mary,’ which is in Bismarck and Division II, ‘or Dickinson State,’ which is in Dickinson, North Dakota and NAIA. I was like, ‘Wherever you want to go, man, I’ll be there with you.’ I went there, he told me he was going to Dickinson, so I was like, ‘This is the perfect opportunity.’ I went there and since I’ve been there, coach (Justin) Schlecht took me in right away, he’s an awesome guy. I’ve been having a great time with him. I bought into what he was saying right away and he knew what I was wanting out of it. I had three years left and I was like, ‘I want these three years to be the best years.’
“My first year, I came in at semester and started right away, I was feeling great going into nationals, I had lost to a Grand View kid, who was the two-time national champ there, by one point at regionals the week before. I’m feeling great there, going in as the fifth seed, end up winning my first match easy, my second one easy, lose my quarterfinal in an overtime match, kind of a freak little thing, lost it, wasn’t there mentally, and then came back in my first match back against a kid I had grinded with all year, he had lost too, and I ended up losing in OT there. That year didn’t go too well, so right away in the off-season I stayed in Dickinson and I said, ‘Coach, I’m training every single day and getting my stuff done here.’ Ever since then I’ve been working with my coach at his tree business, he cuts trees for a living, Top Branch Tree Service, and then every day after we get done at work around 4, he takes me in and we go wrestle a little bit, go train with the guys up there. We have half our team that stayed (during the summer). This (last) year I kind of put it together, so it was an amazing year. I didn’t end up quite where I wanted, I ended up fourth, but I had a great year. I made it to the semifinals, had a great quarterfinal match against a kid who I’ve been grinding with all year, one-point matches, but I blew it open a little bit. In the semifinals, it was 4-3 in the last 20 seconds, I tried something and ended up getting taken down, lost 6-3, but I was right there and he ended up losing in the finals by one point, so I know I’m right there. I came back, battled back and beat two kids, who I’ve had close matches, with pretty easy. Coach told me, ‘Kids who come back through the back side are the tougher guys, the mentally stronger dudes.’ That’s who I want to be. That’s what I tell my guys when I’m teaching them up here. If I’m saying it, I have to do it. I ended up losing in the third- and fourth-place match against a kid I had beaten in the quarters, actually. That was rough. But this is my fourth (Sidney Eagle Wrestling) camp I’ve done now, I’ve been to Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota and back to Montana a little bit, so anything I can give back to (Sidney wrestling coach Guy) Melby and these guys, that’s a no-brainer. I’m here. If he needs me here, I’m here.”
MTN Sports: What is it like being back here and imparting, not only the wisdom you’ve learned from the coaches in Sidney, but all your other stops? What’s it like passing that along?
Jones: “It’s awesome. Especially because the stuff Melby has taught me, I take everywhere with me. I went to a Laurel camp in Montana, I put on that one and the guy, first thing he asks me, ‘Show me what Melbs has taught you.’ First thing. Then he says, ‘All right. Now show me your stuff.’ I was like, ‘OK.’ So everyone knows Melbs. Sidney is at the top right now, they finally got back on (winning the Class A state championship last winter). We got a couple of my Minnesota boys that I went to school with, they came out here for this, so it’s nice to see them. I worked with my little brother and all the guys close to my weight, and the best thing is, they’re asking me questions. I don’t have to say, ‘Hey, do you guys want to train a little bit? Do you want to get a little roll in?’ They’re coming to me and asking me, ‘Hey, can you come show me some stuff? Can you help me out?’ By them telling me that, I know that they want to be good, they want to be at the top. Melbs hears that and he’s like, ‘All right, I’ll do anything for these kids.'”
MTN Sports: What does it mean for you to be able to to coach this little brother, to live with your other little brother in Dickinson, what’s that mean for you emotionally?
Jones: “Oh man. You guys know the story with Trace — two-time state champion, ends up not wrestling his junior and senior year. The only reason that he wrestled was because of me. We’re super close, the best of friends. He pretty much said, I’ll wrestle those two years I have left with you (in high school), but then I don’t think I can do it. I was like, ‘Thank you so much,’ because he’s my guy. Now I have Jett, he kind of started slow and he’s like, ‘I don’t know how much I like wrestling.’ But finally, something clicked for him. I told him, ‘It’s going to be one time, something is going to click for you and you’re going to love it man.’ Last year, something clicked for him and he loves it. He comes up to me all the time, he called me up, ‘Gresh, when can I come down to Dickinson, stay with you for a couple days and train?’ I’m like, ‘Man, come up any time. I have a five-bedroom house, stay in one of the rooms.’ I love it. Me and our whole family is close, everyone comes over to our house, especially when we’re all in town. They just want to see us, talk with us and ask how we’re doing, let us know how they’re doing. It’s a close unit here.”
MTN Sports: Being a Sidney guy, the football program has bounced back the past few years, guys like Garrison and Carter Hughes have the track program great the past couple years, the wrestling program is back on top now, how much pride is there for you being like, ‘Yeah, I’m a Sidney guy. Look what we’re doing,’?”
Jones: “It’s awesome because people are always texting me, asking things like, ‘Hey, who’s this Garrison kid.’ ‘He’s the best pole vaulter in the state of Montana. He’s at Sidney.’ Then they’ll ask about our Sidney teams all the time, and not just from Montana people, I get it all the time from North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, every camp I’ve been to, they ask, ‘What do they do up there that’s different? What’s making them the best?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t want to tell you all that, but it’s a lot of hard work.’ Melbs is the hardest working guy I’ve ever met in my life. He’s there for his kids all the time and I’m getting into coaching and teaching, and he’s the reason why. I want to do everything he’s done, pretty much. I want to be there for the kids, help them be the best and be the best coach I can be.”
MTN Sports: So 20 years down the line when he retires, are you taking over this program?
Jones: “You know, we haven’t talked about it too much, but he said the door is always open whenever I want. I wouldn’t mind that one bit. I would be honored, yeah.”
MTN Sports: In the more short term, fourth place (at nationals) last year, what’s on that bulletin board this next year? What do you have listed down for your goals?
Jones: “My goals, I’ve been breaking down my goals lately. Going into college I was like, ‘Four-time national champ.’ I’ve been breaking those goals down slowly and now I’m working on my bottom (maneuvers). My biggest problem last year was the bottom, I couldn’t get up from the bottom as well. Something clicked for me, no one can hold me down now. I’ve been getting up, people can’t hold me down and I’m good on my feet, I’m good on top. I feel well-rounded everywhere, now I just have to put it together. I believe I can be a national champ. I believed last year I could be a national champ, I believed the year before I could. I just didn’t put it together. This year I know I’m doing everything right and I have the coaches and partners for it, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be. I just have to go make it happen, that’s the biggest thing. It’s all on me.”
MTN Sports: When you look across the college landscape, there are Montana dudes everywhere, especially at the NAIA level, what’s it like wrestling in this fraternity in high school and then seeing so many of them succeed at the college level?
Jones: “It’s really cool because you’ve been wresting with those guys. Me and (former Forsyth state champion and current MSU-Northern No. 1) Matt Weber, we’re super close. He’s always been a weight above me, somewhere in there, we wrestled in high school a bit, but now he’s a weight above me, but we still warm up every once in a while because we’re at all the same tournaments. He’s giving me what he’s thinking, how he’s doing and I love it because that was my guy back in high school. We were in the same weight classes, went to all the same tournaments and camps, now you see all these other kids coming up and it’s good to see. (Belgrade’s) Jarrett Degen, he’s making a name for himself in Division I. The Rausers (Jade and Val of Townsend), they already did their stuff, now it’s someone else’s turn. Hopefully, after we get out of there, some other people come up and start making a name for Montana again. Montana’s not a huge wrestling state, but we’re coming up and we’re trying our best, so it’s good to hear.”