Even though Mexico is probably the best known prep wrestling program in the area when it comes to success, Luke Gramke and the staff at Centralia have been putting together a winning atmosphere and attitude for quite some time now.

One product of all that hard work, knowledge and grappling know-how has been Ethan Leighton. But, his path from where he began to where he's currently at has been far from a simple one. Instead, this former Panther went from being high-minded and under-utilized to something much greater than when he began this journey. The only conclusion one can make as to how that happened is that this 184-pounder just kept working hard and somehow found a way to believe in himself no matter what.

That's far from easy to do when an athlete is young, not eating because he has to cut weight and what probably felt like a million miles from home. At this point that was three years ago and this current Viking has learned my leaps and bounds since then. Now all that lies ahead of him is his senior season and all things considered, because the clock is running out on his athletic career, anyone who faces Leighton this year will be up against the best version of what he brings to the mat.

"Ethan is a really athletic big guy and that isn’t always easy to find. When we talked to him about Grand View, he had high goals and we knew he would fit in with the culture of this program," said Grand View coach Nick Mitchell. "Coaching Ethan has been great. He never gets in trouble, is always on top of school, and it’s always fun to sit in his corner. I can’t way to see him reach his goals on the mat this season and beyond wrestling."

Highlights for 2018-19 for Leighton included the Doane Open in Nebraska, where he went 4-2 with victories over Joshua Wilson of Bethany (Kan.) in 1:38 and Tim Barr of Iowa Western Community College in 3:15 on Dec. 9. As the top-ranked team in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics the Vikings were also able to beat ninth-ranked Baker University 38-6 just three days earlier as the Centralia product gave it everything he had, only to end up on the wrong end of a 10-5 decision.

"Ethan is a great scrambler and is very dangerous in all positions," Mitchell said. "He can pin you from about anywhere. Because of that he gets away with making some fundamental mistakes every now and then and sometimes that can come back to hurt him."

Leighton also made his mark for Grand View in 2017-18, edging out Jay Fresh of William Penn 8-6 on Jan. 17 to help his team stay ranked number-one in the nation. At the Doane Open in NE., on Dec. 10 comfort must have been a factor because the local product came in third as an individual by once again giving a 4-2 performance at this event which featured wins over Wayne State's Austin Schuller in 1:15 and Concordia University's Joshua Nelsen in 2:30.

"Hopefully being part of the wrestling program here has helped Ethan buy into the idea of living a championship lifestyle. That is the number one thing we preach here. That means we expect him to take the same mentality he has on the mat into every part of his life," said Mitchell. "We will really miss Ethan a lot (once he graduates). He’s a lot of fun to have around. He keeps things light and has a great sense of humor. That’s an intangible that really helps bring a team together."

This year Grand View wrapped things up by securing its eighth consecutive national title according to www.gvvikings.com. The team also was able to claim a dozen All-Americans and it advanced its complete lineup to the second day of the NAIA tournament.

"Personally I feel like he’s really come out of his shell since he’s been here. As a young guy on a bigger team it’s tough to speak up, but not he’s a lot more vocal than he used to be," Mitchell said. "On and off the mat, he has really improved in his work ethic. He was never lazy, but was very laid back about school and wrestling and now you can see much more of a sense of urgency."