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The power of perseverance: How MSU's Josh Terrill is wrestling against the odds

February 16, 2024
<p>Redshirt Freshman Wrestler Josh Terrill poses for a portrait on the wrestling mat at IM West on Feb. 15, 2024.</p>

Redshirt Freshman Wrestler Josh Terrill poses for a portrait on the wrestling mat at IM West on Feb. 15, 2024.

Photo by Jonah Brown | The State News

Winning a state championship in high school, wrestling in the Big Ten and leading the nation in wins are only small challenges compared to what Holt, Michigan native and Michigan State’s redshirt freshman heavyweight Josh Terrill has already faced and what he still wants to achieve in his future as a Spartan.

“Tough times don’t last but tough people do” were the words written on a card that a member of the Holt Wrestling Club staff, Koort Leyrer, gave Terrill at the age of 16.

Leyrer and members of the staff would give out cards to all the members of the Holt Wrestling Club including Terrill, usually one that resonated with the athletes. Leyrer thought this quote hit the nail on the head for Terrill, who had just moved out of his childhood home with his then-17-year-old brother Fritz, during Josh’s junior year of high school when the two brothers became unhappy with their living situation.

“I’ve heard that statement from a couple of professional athletes and it kind of reminded me of Josh,” Leyrer said. “If he can survive this, he's just going to make it in life.”

The quote has continued to serve as a reminder to Terrill that he has already weathered the worst of the storm, mostly before he even started college

“You know what you’ve conquered and gotten over, so you know wrestling at the end of the day is not the hardest thing you're going to have to deal with,” Terrill said. “You're going to outlast this and your mentality is going to be different than any other wrestler.”

Terrill left home around the age of 16 and lived with a friend, during which Terrill would consistently go to wrestling practice and after practice, go to work to make enough money to be able to attend wrestling tournaments. Through this certain period in his life, Terrill’s wrestling team was “super supportive.”

“If I needed to switch houses or anything, I could (because) I had options right from when I left home,” Terrill said. “Obviously those small things are a little bit tough in the beginning but it worked out.”

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Redshirt Freshman Wrestler Josh Terrill poses for a portrait on the wrestling mat at IM West on Feb. 15, 2024.

Although the entire team was supportive, one man whom Terrill has to thank more than anyone is the late Rupert Shaft, more commonly known as Rocky in the wrestling community.

Shaft served as the head coach of Holt High School’s wrestling team for over four decades before passing in June 2021. He was an influential figure in the Holt Wrestling Club community as he was one of the first youth coaches to be a part of the program

Shaft, like Terrill, was a Holt native; Shaft grew up right across the street from Josh’s childhood home on Holt Road. Whether it was a ride to practice or needing extra gear, Shaft always looked out for the two Terrill brothers

“We usually rode with him, he always made sure that we had what we needed,” Fritz Terrill said. “If there were any extra opportunities … or out-of-state stuff over the summer, he’d always make sure me and Josh had the option to go.”

One of the last moments that Josh Terrill and Shaft were able to have together was the 2021 State Championship. In Shaft’s final match that he coached, Josh Terrill lost in the finals by decision. However, one year later during the post-Shaft coaching era, Terrill returned to the finals, avenged his loss and became the state champion. Terrill followed through with a promise he had made to Shaft months before the former coach passed away. 

A member of the Holt Wrestling Club coaching staff that saw Terrill win the state championship was Jimbo Hafke, someone who had recently become a figure in Terrill’s life.

“I think one of the really cool parts of Josh is he doesn’t look at what most people consider hard as a bad thing, he looks at that as a necessary step to accomplish what goal he wants and he's really internalized that to be able to say that (it’s) going to be miserable, (it’s) not going to be fun, but this goal (he) has that's going to be tremendous requires him to do this so he just does it,” Hafke said. “I think it’s just really unique when you have a young person that decides to do something very hard because he wants to do something hard instead of … wanting to get attention for being the victim of things.”

When it came time to decide Terrill’s future after a long talk with coaches, Terrill understood what had to be done to take the next steps he wanted to take. One of those coaches that Terrill talked to was Leyrer, who was and still is a huge believer in Terrill and his wrestling skills.

“Josh never really believed he was a Division One athlete until we explained to him there were ways (he) could do this,” Leyrer said. “Once Josh bought in, he put his head down, he took care of things in the classroom and he took care of things on the mat. No matter what the situation was, he was gonna make it work. The kid worked between 25-30 hours at Big John's Steak and Onions all throughout high school just to get himself to wrestling tournaments, to get himself gas, just to have the same clothes as everybody.”

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Redshirt Freshman Wrestler Josh Terrill poses for a portrait on the wrestling mat at IM West on Feb. 15, 2024.

During his senior year, Terrill committed to wrestle in the toughest conference in the nation: the Big Ten. Terrill stayed in Ingham County and moved just 15 miles away from where he became a state champion at Holt High School.

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Although some people may have been surprised at the fact that Josh Terrill was good enough to wrestle in college, Fritz Terrill never doubted the thought of Josh Terrill committing to join a college team. Fritz Terrill said that from when the two brothers started wrestling — Josh being in third grade -– it “was just (Josh’s) passion” and that he wasn’t surprised Josh Terrill was able to win the state championship. Throughout their careers in wrestling, Josh would always “keep (Fritz) in check” to practice and try his best. 

Simply just wrestling in the Big Ten is far different than being a dominant leader in the conference, but Josh Terrill knows the difference. He currently leads the country in wins with 25, a remarkable feat for a first-year student

For Terrill, starting the year so active was nothing but another step towards becoming one of the best

“I'm fresh, I’m a new guy, this is only my second year and first as a starter,” Terrill said. “We just wanted to get in as many matches as we can because I think that’s important. If I want to grow as a wrestler, I need that experience.”

Terrill has already shown remarkable growth this season as he has secured six pins on the season, the two most recent being a crucial pin to help secure Michigan State’s first conference dual win this season against Wisconsin and the other being the Spartan's fastest pin of the season in which Terrill secured in 17 seconds against Illinois. Terrill also recently took Intermat’s No. 7 heavyweight Yaraslau Slavikouski to a razor-sharp decision in the Spartan’s dual against Rutgers.

Terrill himself remains just outside of an Intermat ranking but has risen to No. 30 on FloWrestling and No. 46 on WrestleStat, a stark rise having started the season unranked on FloWrestling and No. 88 on WrestleStat

The climb up the rankings is one that Terrill has embraced, seeing it as an opportunity to surprise people while he still can

“So far I haven’t been the highly ranked guy, so I’ve had the chance to be the underdog and upset other people and show people what I‘m really capable of,” Terrill said. “I love that feeling a lot.”

For the future, Terrill has a goal of being the best, something he thinks he is capable of. 

“(For) each place I'm at, I want to be known as the best wrestler,” Terrill said. “In high school, I was one of the best wrestlers to ever come out of Holt, and if I (become an All-American), then I will be the best athlete ever from Holt. I want to be that person when they think Michigan State heavyweight, they think Josh Terrill, or when they ask who is the best heavyweight to come out of Michigan as a state, I want them to think Josh Terrill.”

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Redshirt Freshman Wrestler Josh Terrill poses for a portrait on the wrestling mat at IM West on Feb. 15, 2024.

So while Terrill has already achieved more than most can dream, he remains far from where he wants to be. But with a mentality as relentless as his and a work rate only few can match, Terrill knows no matter what struggles or failures he faces, he will succeed in the end. 

“The biggest lesson you can take from wrestling is no matter what happens, you can always get back up and reset and be successful at what you want to do,” Terrill said. “And that goes in life too. If something terrible happens in your life, you can get back from that you don’t have to dread that. Tough times don't last but tough people do, and wrestling makes tough people.

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