Grant Goebel steps out of brother's shadow

Grant Goebel's older brother is a freshman Ohio State defensive lineman who earned 36 scholarship offers from Division I schools. In his spare time at Montini Catholic in Lombard, Ill., Grant's older brother rampaged through Illinois wrestling, claiming two heavyweight state titles and the state records for wins and pins.

"People knew me as little Goebel, or Garrett's little brother," Grant said.

That's understandable, given Garrett's size -- 6-foot-5, 280 pounds -- but terms like "little" and "big" are relative in the Goebel household. Their dad, Greg, is a 6-3 second-generation owner of a concrete company and a former college football player and wrestler, who has coached wrestling for two decades. Greg has hands "like catcher's mitts," said Montini wrestling coach Mike Bukovsky, laughing that when Greg demonstrates a move at a Montini practice, "he gets his hands on you and he crinkles you like a pop can."

There is a wrestling mat and a weight room in the family basement, and both boys worked alongside Greg in the summers. Emerging from this sweatshop, little brother Grant -- all 6-3, 190 pounds of him -- is now a senior and, after earning all-state honors as a wide receiver and linebacker last fall, is the state's top-ranked wrestler in the 215-pound weight class.

Grant's mailbox isn't nearly as full as Garrett's was, but there's no denying his heart always has been.

The regular battles with Garrett on the basement mat, Greg always nearby and ready to prevent mayhem, were perfect preparation for the 30 to 40 pounds Grant gave up his junior year at the same weight. That gap is down to 20 pounds this season -- which could result in Grant's adding a state title to the family collection in a few weeks.

After that, Grant will choose a university more for academics than athletics, but both are in his future. The Ivy League has come calling: Harvard, Princeton, Cornell. In short, Grant may have been in the shade the past couple of years, but he wasn't snoozing.

"Since seventh or eighth grade, my dad told me I'd have my day," said Grant.

Greg took the boys twice to watch wrestling when they were in elementary school, and both times they showed no interest. Their father signed them up anyway, and both boys credit Greg with their success. Besides the favorable genes, the common denominator is a stony work ethic.

Concrete work is as gritty as it gets -- heavy things, hot sun, long and humid days. Garrett was on the job when he was 10. Grant wasn't far behind. As the boys grew, Greg woke them early for training sessions before school. Garrett didn't start football until ninth grade, but the new sport soon became his love and the old sport his hobby.

"Wrestling is the sport that made these guys," Greg said. "Football is fun. Wrestling is work."

Illinois is one of the toughest states in the nation for high school wrestling, so the fact neither Goebel wrestled year-round, like many of the elite athletes do, makes their grappling success more impressive. Grant began to hit the weights later than Garrett did, and redoubled his efforts last summer after a bittersweet but defining junior year.

Grant had limited playing time on the gridiron, and his regional wrestling tournament boasted the state's top two 215-pounders. He failed to advance in the individual competition, but Montini, a state powerhouse since the turn of the century, was a favorite to win the state duals tournament the week after the individual finals.

The brothers always wrestled back-to-back in dual meets, and in the dual state tournament, Garrett was on deck, matside, as Grant won key matches in the quarterfinal, semifinal and final, helping Montini earn the crown. He scored a third-period pin, a shutout, and rallied from a 2-1 deficit with a third-period reversal.

It was hard to tell that day where the brothers stopped and the teammates began, and it was Grant's first real taste of athletic success to rival Garrett's.

"That day I really felt like I came out of his shadow," Grant said.

Since that winter day, it's been all good for both Goebels. Garrett chose the Buckeyes over Michigan, won a weekly scout-team honor and got better grades than he had in high school. Grant got to live without Garrett at home.

"It was nice at first, and kind of weird -- he'd come back and we got along," said Grant. "Now that I don't see him that much, he's only got nice things to say."

What else could Garrett say? Grant never came off the field on offense, catching any pass within a zip code of him, as well as punting and snagging interceptions from his outside linebacker spot. Though Montini lost in the 5A quarterfinals after suffering a fourth-quarter collapse, Grant continued to do the Goebel name proud.

He hasn't lost to any wrestler from Illinois this season, having won a title in the state's roughest regular-season tournament. He made the final match of the prestigious Cheesehead gathering in Wisconsin, was 6-0 at the Rochester Clash in Minnesota and placed eighth in the 55-team Walsh Ironman slugfest in Ohio. Grant may end up where Garrett did the past two seasons, on the top step of the state finals podium, but he'll get there his own way.

Whereas Garrett could be found in the stands minutes before a match "eating a Rice Krispies Treat," according to the younger brother, Grant works up a sweat before a match, pacing and bouncing. Garrett intimidated, then overpowered opponents; Grant wins with technique and conditioning. Their arsenal of moves is similar, however. The Goebels gain control with snapdowns and front headlocks and foot sweeps, then close the deal or pile up back points with armbars and chicken wings.

"Excellent mat wrestlers," Bukovsky said of the Goebels. "Riding and pinning."

Still, no matter how it ends on the mat for Grant, football is the brothers' athletic future. Until they come home for a holiday. And wind up in the basement. On the mat.

"It would always start out friendly " Greg said.

Joe Bush is a freelance writer in Illinois.