TOWNSEND — Justin Denton wasn't sure he would be able to finish his academic career in Townsend, the town he referred to as home throughout his high school career, and neither did his wrestling coach John O'Dell.

Because of family dynamics, the Townsend High senior has flip-flopped to several towns before settling here.

"I knew that when Justin moved to Townsend, there was a question of whether or not he was going to stay," O'Dell said. "There was always that chance that he was going to move, but I am quite glad he stayed. I hoped he would stay, and we've been blessed to have him for four years. We've stuck together, and supported each other as a family. We are a very tight-knit group with each other."

Denton, described as a selfless member of the community and team, looks for a chance to qualify for another Class B 182-pound state tournament bid when Townsend hosts the seeding tournament Saturday.

One area that gives Denton a definitive edge is his consistency, according to O'Dell.

"You never have to question whether Justin is doing the right thing because he always does the right thing," O'Dell said.

O'Dell said he could cite hundreds of examples of Denton contributing to his own game, or helping someone else.

"There was a high school kid that needed help, and he helped him for a couple of hours," O'Dell said. "Everyone in the community was impressed by his work ethic toward helping the kid. He is always looking to help out whether it be an older adult or someone else. He always goes above and beyond."

Denton, who is part of his youth group, said there are countless examples of him contributing to his community.

"He is consistent with his little brother and cares for him a lot," O'Dell said. "He will take his little brother to wrestling camp for six hours a day."

O'Dell said the community is blessed to have someone like Denton.

"The school and the teachers are all blessed to have him, and count on him to do his best work as a role model," O'Dell said. "He's a great role model to younger kids in his youth group and is a leader on the football field and the wrestling mat. He blocks as hard as he can on the football field, and will pick the 113-pounder that had a hard loss and encourage him."

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A balancing act

Denton participates in football, wrestling, and track. He followed his urge to be a great athlete through his father.

"I've been wrestling with my dad since I was about 4 years old, and he's been my coach," Denton said. "When I first started, I didn't know much about wrestling. I took one year off because I was moving a lot. My dad got me back into wrestling, and worked with me as a mentor as well."

To stay in shape for wrestling, Denton has continued to remain committed to his sport and maintain his weight at 182.

"It's much dedication," Denton said. "Sometimes I don't want to get up and go for a run. Sometimes it's more dedication than football and track every morning, during lunch and at night. I run in the morning and check my weight during practice and lunch. I have to maintain that all day and this is on my mind."

Wrestling on the mat at the 182-pound weight classification the last couple of years hasn't been easy.

The last couple of seasons, the 182-pound weight class featured competitors such as Eureka's Garrett Graves, who went undefeated for two years.

Other competitors included Spencer Jones of Florence, who has since moved up to heavyweight, Gus Bosley of St. Ignatius and Drake Schake of Jefferson. These are just a few of the competitors in the stockpiled weight class who could stand in his way of reaching the podium.

"I've gotten close to the podium, but I've lost out three times in the last three years," Denton said. "Garrett and I never wrestled each other, and he is gone. That is a huge window for competitors in 182."

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Looking toward the future

Denton is focused on defeating Schake this weekend, but he is also looking toward his future after school.

"I want to graduate high school, get great grades, and get shipped off into the Army and go from there," Denton said.

Denton, who aspires to study sports medicine after experiencing injuries of his own as an athlete, says it is hard to balance the life of a student-athlete.

"Balancing three sports is complicated," Denton said. "You have to keep your grades up, do your homework and be physical in football. You get tossed around and get hurt but the great thing about football it is a giant family like no other."

After bouncing around from multiple schools, Denton finally found a home in Townsend.

"During wrestling season every year, there are a few people I help shovel their sidewalks, and I do it for free," Denton said. "I help at the annual Fall Fest and help them take down the set."

Denton, who has found a home here and has become one of the athletes favored to win the Class B-C divisional championship, said he is glad he chose to live in Townsend.

"I choose Townsend because I know everyone here, and they have my back if anything goes south," Denton said. "This town is like one giant family. Everyone in Townsend knows you for sports, school, and community. It is almost as if they are related to you through blood."

Denton will be in his hometown during this weekend as he looks to challenge Schake, one of the other favorites in 182, for the Divisional crown and make another trip to MetraPark in Billings.

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Jason Blasco is the lead prep sports reporter for the Helena Indepedent-Record and a sports reporter for the network.

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