HELENA — Devin Crawford glosses over questions regarding last year's state wrestling appearance but doesn't dodge them altogether.
Headed into last year's Class AA tournament, the Helena High wrestler was on paper one of the favorites to stand at the top of the podium in front of the full capacity crowd at MetraPark, but a championship wasn't to be.
Before the state tournament, Crawford came down with the flu and also cut a significant amount of weight.
Severely weakened at state, Crawford did what he could but the result was less than desirable.
When asked about last season's tournament experience, Crawford abruptly answered "yes," acknowledging he was sick with the flu and then proceeded to elaborate.
"It was terrible, and it sucked," Crawford said. "Those are the type of things that you have to get over. Obviously, I wanted to do my best but things don't always pan out, and you can't quite get over something like that."
Bengals coach Sam Bogard said his ordeal was a challenge to overcome.
"Not only did he have the flu, but he was also cutting weight, which is two strikes against you," Bogard said.
As Crawford heads into this year's tournament Friday and Saturday at MetraPark, he is in excellent health, which signals bad news for others prospective wrestlers gunning for a championship.
"He's in great health right now," Bogard said. "My whole team has been sick all year, and this is the healthiest we've been. I am crossing my fingers (it'll stay that way.)."
Crawford doesn't want to discuss last year, but he admits he uses the experience as motivation to follow in his brother Caiden Crawford's footsteps. Caiden won a state championship his senior season. Devin hopes to do the same.
"During the offseason, I was very vested," Devin said. "Since my freshman year, I wanted to win state, and the experience last year just added more fuel to the fire."
Putting in work
Devin Crawford not only wrestled all over the country gaining more mat time and experience, but also modified his footwork, hoping to live up to the billing as the best Class AA wrestler at 160 area coaches have all stated.
"I think that is the biggest thing I've improved is making sure I am always moving when I am on the mat," Crawford said. "I never stop moving, and never take a break. I worked on having better shot selections, keeping my head down and just cleaning up basic errors."
Motivated by several factors, Devin Crawford continues to mow down his 160-pound opponents with a state title on his mind.
"I think he's extremely motivated since last year," Bogard said. "Last year didn't finish the way he wanted it, and he kept that chip on his shoulder. Ever since, he's dominant. I think there have been three varsity matches that haven't totaled five minutes. He's on a mission, and I hope it comes out for him."
Bogard acknowledged Crawford lives on a planet of his design, and his unique ability to channel his motivation into results could be the difference.
"Devin is a character all to himself," Bogard said. "He's a great kid, and I wouldn't even call him a kid, he's a young man. He just doesn't put himself in a bad position on the wrestling mat. That is the number one thing (about Devin). I never see him put himself in a bad position during a match. He is very mat smart."
Devin isn't the type of wrestler who is complacent. After four years as a varsity wrestler, he knows seeding can be irrelevant to the end result and cited several instances in his career where this happened.
"There are a lot of tough wrestlers, and there are a lot of wrestlers in my weight bracket that beat each other," Crawford said. "A lot of them are so close, the match could go either way. It's hard to say (who could win)."
Before practice, Crawford is watching film on his phone trying to gain an edge on his competition. Regardless of their seeding, he knows the result is what matters.
"These are the last weeks of my high school wrestling career," Crawford said. "Whether they are good or bad, everyone is getting the same treatment."
Devin has seen eight-seeded wrestlers topple top-seeded wrestlers, and he's determined in his final week in his high school wrestling career not to let that happen.
"Even kids who might not be very good, I will watch film because they are going to come out and down the same thing," Crawford said. "I just want to beat them worse next time."
Calm before the storm
Before a match, Crawford will listen to relaxing music, trying not to over complicate the task at hand.
"I always think of other things instead of the match," Crawford said. "I don't want to overthink a match. I want to be as relaxed as possible and stay as calm as possible. I like to listen to calm music, not someone screaming at me."
Devin, who recalled his first-ever opening ceremony with his brother, also admitted he was slightly intimidated after seeing the elaborate production in Billings for the first time as a freshman.
"I think it was pretty intimidating (the first time) I was there,' Devin admitted. "With my brother Caiden , I had been to a lot of big tournaments in the past. I saw him win it when he was a senior and had been to a lot of big tournaments with him."
Now it's Crawford chance to step at the top of the podium. Crawford, who has aspirations to wrestle in college, isn't concerning himself with those details he knows that could potentially fall into place with a good performance on Montana's biggest stage.
"There will be a lot of emotion at my last state tournament," Crawford said. "I just want to go out there and do my best, leave it all out on the mat and leave on a good note."
Isaac Romero is looking for his third consecutive state championship this week. For Romero, nothing will duplicate the feeling of winning his first championship.
"To win the second one felt pretty good to win, and to win my first (championship) was just amazing," Romero said. "There is no other feeling I had before it, and it was just exciting."
Romero, who transitioned from 103 to 113, and now the 120-pound weight class, knows winning his third straight in his third consecutive weight class won't be easy.
"It is hard to believe, and I can't believe I am going for my third one," Romero said. "If I can get my third consecutive title, it will be the second time it was achieved. With hard work and the grind, I'll have to get down and dirty to get it."
Bogard talked about Romero's strength as he attempts to win in a field cluttered with talent. That field includes Capital's Carson DesRosier, an opponent who currently has an above .500 record against him head-to-head this year.
"The nice thing about Isaac and Devin is that they are on the mat all of the time in and out of the wrestling season," Bogard said. "120 is a tough weight class as anything. At state, anything can go. I am hoping my youngest can get some big upsets and our team ends the season on a good note."