KEARNEY — No one can question Gauge McBride’s toughness.
Ten months before he won the Nebraska Class A 152-pound wrestling championship, McBride was airlifted from Valentine to Kearney for treatment of a lacerated liver, an injury he suffered while competing in bull riding at a rodeo. It put him on the sidelines for three months.
“I got stepped on by a bull. ... It wasn’t a terrible laceration and maybe I got back on a little sooner than I was supposed to, but it was alright,” McBride said.
This winter, McBride, who plans to compete in rodeo in college and beyond, stepped on many people’s state championship hopes during the wrestling season, earning him this year’s Hub Territory Wrestler of the Year honor. The Kearney High senior and nephew of two-time world champion bull rider Justin McBride, compiled a 46-5 record this year on his way to the top of the podium, winning two exciting matches in the semifinals and finals of the state tournament.
In the semifinals, McBride defeated Papillion-La Vista’s No. 1-ranked Cole Price in sudden victory overtime. In the finals, he defeated Omaha Central’s Deon Davis, 6-3.
“There’s nothing that compares to that. It’s one of the goals you always have,” McBride said of his state championship. “I stepped off the mat after I was done ... looking up at all those people was just amazing.”
KHS coach Ty Swarm wasn’t surprised by McBride’s success. He knew he had a special wrestler who is even more successful in the rodeo arena than on the wrestling mat.
“There were other guys on the team just as capable as he was but he probably put in more work and he probably had more mental toughness than maybe other people did at the end of the year. I think that goes a long way. The want-to and willpower to get things done ... that’s kind of how he trains and how he handles his business day to day.”
Even though he ended his career in Kearney High’s top 10 in total victories, McBride climbed his way to the top of the podium inch by inch. As a freshman, he won 17 matches and qualified for state. As a sophomore, he didn’t qualify because of an injury. Last year, he lost in the second round at state but came back through the consolation bracket to finish third.
During his senior year, nothing got in his way.
“This past year was the best year I’ve ever had. I felt I was wrestling great and I was on my game,” he said. “Just knowing it was my last year. I was just focusing on everything that maybe I didn’t focus on in past years.”
The result made him a focal point in the KHS wrestling room. It was something Swarm wanted to see and felt that his team needed. Phillip Moomey, a three-time champion, and Nick James, a state champion and two-time finalist, had filled those roles in recent years.
“Going into this year ... there was some uncertainty about who was going to step into that leadership role and take charge of the team,” Swarm said. “The first thing we saw from Gauge that stood out was his ability to take the lead as far as the expectations and everything that goes along with being a leader in our program.”
Swarm said McBride held himself accountable for the little things that matter, forming high expectations for himself and working hard to exceed those expectations. All of that rubbed off on other members of the team.
“He gave a lot to the people around him with the way he did what he did on a daily basis,” Swarm said. “He also made it a fun atmosphere. He’s got a great personality. He’s very positive, energetic and outgoing. That really bleeds into other people.”
McBride understood that he had to take on a different role without Moomey and James in the room.
It was one of his biggest challenges this year, figuring that out, but he fit into the duty by being the good role model, wrestling right and doing the right things on and off the mat.
“It was my turn to be the one to be looked up to. I think it motivated me to wrestle better,” he said.
Swarm saw the effect.
“He’s a guy you can count on to compete to the very best of his ability and get the job done each and every time he stepped on the mat,” Swarm said.