As the Bucksport High School wrestlers hosted a multi-team meet at Ralph Jewett Gymnasium on Wednesday night, David Gross was still wrestling with his immediate athletic future.
On Friday, he pinned down his choice.
The Golden Bucks’ senior heavyweight, who last winter captured his second individual state title in the sport and was runner-up at the New England championships, has decided to have knee surgery as soon as possible in order to pursue a college football future beginning next fall.
Gross played through pain while leading Bucksport to the Class D North football crown this fall. The suspected culprit is the medial patellofemoral ligament, which attaches the kneecap to the inner part of the knee and helps stabilize the area.
Gross has suffered a kneecap dislocation at least twice during his high school years. The first time was at the 2017 New England wrestling championships after he had become the first freshman to win the 285-pound weight division at Maine’s all-classes New England qualifying meet.
He suffered the same injury during preseason before the 2019 football season but played through it. Gross was named the LTC player of the year, offensive lineman of the year and defensive lineman of the year.
“It’s one of those things where I really think I need to get healthy,” he said. “I played through a lot of pain all football season with the knee injury happening in preseason. It’s not just a physical barrier, but it’s a mental barrier as well. It’s a lot to take.”
Gross hopes to play football in college, perhaps following in his father Dave’s footsteps at the University of New Hampshire.
But while football’s his favorite sport, wrestling and the success he’s achieved on the mat as well as the chance to compete with his teammates for a state championship this winter was a possibility Gross could not easily reject.
“I’m kind of nervous that I’ll do more damage, and I’ve already kind of proven myself in the wrestling world,” said Gross, who had hoped to have the opportunity to wrestle with his brother Jaxson, who is a freshman on the team.
Instead, Gross chose not to delay the surgery, which has an anticipated four- to six-month recovery period. This way, he is more likely to be ready for the start of preseason football practice in August.
Gross was at his healthiest last winter when he became what is believed to be the first wrestler in Bucksport history to place among the top six at the New Englands.
He won three straight matches to reach the heavyweight championship final before being edged 5-4 by Matteuz Kudra. The two-time high school All-American from North Attleborough, Massachusetts, is wrestling at the University of Virginia.
Gross, the 2019 Maine Class B and all-classes champion at 285 pounds, finished his junior year with a 33-1 record, including a state-record four-second pin early in the season.
That marked a major comeback from his sophomore wrestling campaign, which ended after two matches due to a recurrence of knee problems. Gross ultimately was diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a partially torn meniscus and a torn medial patellofemoral ligament. He underwent surgery Feb. 9, 2018.
Gross returned to football midway through the 2018 season and helped the Golden Bucks reach the Class D North final. He was named the league’s Toogie McKay Offensive Lineman of the Year as a junior and earned All-LTC first-team honors on both offense and defense.
This story was updated to reflect Gross’s decision to have knee surgery and not compete in wrestling this winter.