By Andrew Johnson

GRAND HAVEN – Sometimes life’s small decisions can lead to really big things.

Grand Haven wrestler Drake Morley knows all about that.

Morley is a three-sport athlete, but he almost dropped down to two sports when he arrived at high school as a freshman.

Grand Haven wrestling standout Drake Morley

With football in the fall and lacrosse in the spring, he seriously considered dropping wrestling. It was only a family connection that kept him on the team.

“I was kind of close to quitting my freshman year, but my brother Connor was a senior wrestler and I wanted to be on the same team as him,” Morley said. “I’m glad I didn’t quit, because I don’t think I would be the person I am now. It’s a lot of hard work, and mentally straining, but I don’t think I would be as mentally strong if I had quit.”

Instead of dreading the idea of wrestling in the winter, “now it’s become my favorite sport,” Morley said.

Morley not only likes wrestling a lot more than he did three years ago, but he’s also become very good at it.

So good, in fact, that he’s a regional champion and a No. 1 seed in the 215-pound weight class in this weekend’s Division 1 individual state finals at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Morley and 50 other local wrestlers will complete for state glory on Friday and Saturday in Divisions 1, 2, 3 and 4.

“It would mean the world to me,” Morley said about the possibility of winning a state championship. “It’s been a dream of mine for a while now, so to get that would be wonderful.

“I want to win it, but I have to take it one match at a time, otherwise I won’t be focused enough on the match at hand and I could get beat.”

Morley is extra motivated to do well at the state finals this seasons, for several different reasons.

Obviously, as a senior, this is his last chance. And he feels like he could have done very well at the state finals last year, if he would have been able to compete.

He was the top seed at regionals in the 171-pound weight class, and needed only one more victory to qualify for state.

Drake Morley battles from the bottom of the mat in a recent match. Photo/Grand Haven Tribune

He was in a winner’s bracket semifinal match when he hyper-extended an elbow only 46 seconds into the first period. He was unable to continue, so he didn’t place at regionals and didn’t qualify for state.

Morley’s junior season was over, and he never had the chance to see how he stacked up against other top wrestlers in Michigan.

“I was really disappointed,” said Grand Haven wrestling coach Vince Gervais. “I knew he wanted so badly to make state, and he would’ve gone if it wasn’t for the injury.”

“I think I would have won regionals, and placed at state, which was my goal all season,” Morley said.

Morley came back from the injury with a vengeance this season, determined to earn a second chance. He has posted a 26-4 record and captured championships at the O-K Red Conference tournament, as well as the Division 1 district and regional tournaments over the past few weeks.

“Every time I stepped on the mat this summer, even when I didn’t want to, I remembered the injury,” he said. “It really fueled me.”

Morley put on more muscle and more weight as he worked out in the offseason, and has been competing at both 189 and 215 over the winter high school season.

He ultimately made the tactical decision to wrestle at the higher weight in the state tournament.

“I wrestled 189 part of the season, and basically just looked at how I was wrestling at each weight,” he said. “I thought 215 would be better for me because guys are bigger and a bit slower, while I’m pretty quick.”

Morley will be joined at the state finals by four Grand Haven teammates – Caleb Braley (119), Daniel Guillen (130), Bryan Batten (152) and Collin Monsma (285).

Gervais says Morley has played an important role in motivating his teammates to improve and qualify for state.

“He’s a vocal leader and kind of our emotional leader,” the coach said. “He gets along with all his peers and the underclassmen. He encourages everyone on the team and is the loudest person on the bench during the matches.”

Morley is one of 13 local wrestlers who will enter the state finals as a regional champion.

The others are Whitehall’s Kayleb Venema (160), Hunter Bower (112), Allen Powers (145) and JoJo Dowdell (152); Fruitport’s Zach Sykes (103); Grant’s Jagarr Jenerou (130); Montague’s Matt Lipka (135); Hart’s Carlos Garza (160) and Noah Cantu (112); Muskegon Catholic’s Brock Johnson (285); Shelby’s Nick Felt (135); and Hesperia’s Gerritt Yates (152).