SPENCER, Iowa | Easton Graff looks at the wall and sees a lot of names. Names of wrestlers he has looked up to but, for him, there is one that is missing and it is a driving force for what he does on a daily basis -- his own.
"I am constantly looking at the state placewinners' wall in the south wall of our facility, and I want to be up there with those guys," he said. "I don't want to just be up there, I want to be one of the guys that has No. 1 next to his name not six, five, four, three or two."
Graff, who is ranked fourth in Class 2A at 138 pounds, continued the strong start to his season by winning the Austin Roberts Memorial Invitational in Spencer Saturday. He had a pair of pins to reach the finals before downing West Monona's ninth-ranked (1A) Marvin Hildreth in the finals 3-0, handing the senior his first loss of the season while improving his record to 14-2.
His semifinal victory gave him his 100th win, showing the talent of a wrestler who enjoyed a decorated youth career.
That performance came a week after going 7-2 and placing fifth at the ultra-competitive Council Bluffs Classic. Good building blocks for the season, but Graff will gauge his success by February results and not December returns.
The talented junior has yet to reach the state tournament, finishing third at the district tournament each of the past two seasons.
"I get these comments all the time of 'how does state feel?' in a joking way," Graff said. "Next year I want to be able to tell them how state really went."
Those close misses rarely leave his mind.
"(Making state) is something I think about almost hourly," he said. "Except for when I am sleeping. Every second of every day I want that so badly. I wanted it ever since I saw Brayden (Curry) do it and then fall short (of winning a title) two years in a row."
It is a painful reality that comes with the sport of wrestling, but one that Graff is determined to use to better himself.
"I have become a person that can put stuff away and then bring it back when it needs to be brought back," he said. "So when it comes to state time I can bring back all the bad things that have happened and use it as more of a motivator than I have before."
That bad stuff has humbled Graff.
"I have more respect for the sport itself and more respect for what it brings to a wrestler and a student of the sport," he said.
Sergeant Bluff-Luton Coach Clint Koedam has watched as Graff has had to deal with his disappointing defeats.
"Sometimes there is a little bit of an awakening when you come to high school and those kids tend to go one of two ways," he said. "They go the wrong way and end up not having the success they should of had, or they go the right way and keep working hard and keep that orneriness about them."
Graff wrestles with a lot of passion and emotion which often works in his favor, but it has also boiled over at times. It has led to physical wrestling that doesn't endear him to opposing wrestlers or fans. Graff is not oblivious to this and has adapted as he has matured without losing the edge that makes him so successful.
"I have changed my mindset from freshman year all the way to now," he said. "From a kid that didn't expect to lose too many matches ended up losing 20-some matches (actually 16) my freshman year. Now I am a guy that says 'If I lose it is just something I have to learn from.' Every time I do lose I lose a little less the next season."
"When you watch Easton wrestle he can get into positions most people would give up on and he just keeps pushing through it, and a lot of times makes something great out of it," Koedam said. "He just wants to be successful really bad and sometimes that can be overwhelming. It is all about controlling your emotions, controlling your physicality out on the mat.
"As he continues to control all of those things more and more it is just going to elevate the success he is going to experience. Wrestling is not just technique and conditioning, it is the whole body."
Graff now finds himself in a different role for the Warriors as he has taken on more of a role as a veteran on a young squad that won the tournament in Spencer with three underclassmen winning titles to go with the 138-pounder.
"They are right there and I think we are going to have a bunch of state placewinners this year, especially some of our younger guys that have been so accomplished in their careers," Graff said. "But I think we just need to emphasize a few different things in the room.
"It is a big step because to lose guys like Brayden Curry and Kyle Benson that is a huge loss, but you add guys like (freshmen) Jack Gaukel and Isaac Bryan and those guys have been in the room busting their butt forever. You just have to give those guys a little mentoring and that has come as a little bit of a learning process to me."
He is also set to approach the postseason a little differently this time around.
"Mindset has to change a little bit," Graff said. "At the beginning of the season you are thinking this is just the start. At the end of the season you are thinking this is it, this is when I have to put up to make my dreams come true."