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‘Finish what you start:’ Cale Coppess driven to become a Montague wrestling all-timer

The CatchMark SportsNet Profile of the Week is sponsored by David Dusenberry of Coldwell Banker.

Video by Billy Mann and Jesse King | CatchMark

MONTAGUE – Cale Coppess has learned many lessons from parents Tricia and Chad Coppess. The scar on his father’s chin is a constant reminder of one of them.

That lesson: Finish what you start and don’t let anything distract your focus. (More on that later.)

It’s the modus operandi for Cale Coppess now, but the Montague senior wrestling standout, competitive cross-country runner and top-notch student has learned some tough lessons along the way.

With five more victories in the Randy Jacobs Memorial Duals Saturday at Montague, Coppess improved his season wrestling record to 32-0 with 17 pins, five tech falls and three major decisions. In his four-year career with the Wildcats, he’s 157-19 (81 pins, 13 tech falls and 24 majors).

Coppess is focused on becoming Montague’s all-time wins leader. As the season begins to wind down, the 135-pounder needs 13 more to pass 2018 alumnus Matt Lipka and achieve his goal. Coppess is eight victories from moving to No. 2 on the list, past 2012 grad Chen Martinez.

In order to get to this point, Coppess first had to learn another lesson: Live like nobody else, so you can live like nobody else. He recalls the early days when he started training at ARES Wrestling Club in Grand Rapids.

“That was back when I didn’t really like it because it was a really tough room and I was getting my butt handed to me every single time,” Coppess recalled. “We were on our way and I was pouting because I didn’t want to go, and my dad said, ‘The reason we’re doing this is, you’re living like nobody else so you can live like no one else.’

“So, the idea of, you’re going to do what nobody else does and you’re going to train harder than anybody else does, so that then you can go and win the awards that nobody else will be able to win.”

Coppess, a 4.0 student, has collected plenty of awards in wrestling and cross country at Montague and he’s reached various milestones. Some of the notables:

  • Two-time all-state in wrestling. He finished third at 125 pounds in last year’s Division 3 state finals, and he was placed eighth at 119 in D-3 in the 2020 season.
  • Five-time NUWAY All-American wrestler.
  • All-conference multiple times in wrestling and cross country, and a two-time district champ on the mat.
  • Earned the right to compete at the cross country state finals three times, including twice as an individual.
  • Reached the 150-win plateau in his career in the championship match of last Saturday’s Greater Muskegon Athletic Association wrestling tournament at Mona Shores.

If becoming the Wildcats’ all-time wrestling wins leader is No. 1 on Coppess’ list, then winning the state title this season is right up there, too. In many ways, they could go hand-in-hand in that he could achieve one and then the other.

“If he does well through state, which we predict, it could be one of those matches at the end where it comes right down to it,” Montague coach Kris Maddox said about Coppess’ chances of breaking the career wins record.

“(Getting to 150 was) pretty big with the COVID year, I think,” added Maddox, referring to Coppess and his teammates getting 20-some fewer matches last year because of the shortened season amid the pandemic.

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark and Stephanie Moore

Several years ago, Coppess made it a goal to one day have his name on the leaderboards on the wall in Montague’s gym honoring all-state wrestlers and all-time wins leaders in the sport. He is still writing that history, but his name already appears on those boards.

Cale Coppess, who is named after Olympic gold medalist, undefeated collegian and current Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson, is a focused-driven and mature young man. Coppess did not always display this passion for wrestling when he was younger, nor was he blessed with the most athleticism, but he’s continued to work.

The 5-foot-8 Coppess played football through his freshman year, but he believed cross country would better prepare him mentally and physically for wrestling. He does possess some physical tools now through a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but discipline, mental toughness and intelligence also loom large in his success.

In fifth or sixth grade, as Maddox remembers, Coppess was a “skinny, kind of tiny” kid, who served as Montague’s wrestling manager. A couple years later, Coppess truly made the commitment to be great.

In addition to Montague’s practices and competitions, Coppess trains on the side at least a couple more times per week, according to Maddox.

“His ability to adjust, his versatility (are strong suits). He can be aggressive, but also lay back and wait for his opportunity. But, just his general experience,” Maddox said about the four-year team captain, while also noting his mental routine.

“He’s really just an all-around athlete. He probably could have been solid at football, but you know, at 135, 140 pounds, he wasn’t the fastest kid. I mean, he knew what he had to do to get where he’s at.”

Cale Coppess and his mother, Tricia Coppess, pose for a photo in her classroom at Montague High School after Cale pulled a prank with a plunger. (Courtesy of Tricia Coppess)

Coppess, 17, has intentions of wrestling in college and he’s closely looking at two schools: Cornerstone University and Wheaton College in Illinois. He plans to study business. One day, he would like to work at Grace Adventures with his father and focus on vocational ministry. His ideals of spirituality, hard work and commitment derive from his parents.

Tricia Coppess is an English teacher at Montague High School. Cale is in her class, and even though he may come off on the quiet side, he can be a prankster in her room. While he highly enjoys being in his mom’s class, he admitted his favorite is art.

“Every chance I get to pull out my sketch book and draw, it takes me into a whole different world,” he said. “I really enjoy that class because I can kind of take myself out of the stress of school and stuff like that.”

Chad Coppess is Christian camp director at Grace Adventures in Silver Lake, which has 50 horses and a small herd of cattle. He wrestled in high school at Lakewood High School (Lake Odessa). He assists with Montague’s wrestling team and he was a co-founder of the Wildcats’ youth program.

The Coppesses have horses at their ranch-style residence in Claybanks Township, where Cale has picked up much of his blue-collar mentality. He said some of the best stories involve being bucked off a horse or dealing with manure.

The story that sticks out in Cale’s mind happened a handful of years ago, when his father was training a horse and got kicked in the chin.

Montague assistant wrestling coach Chad Coppess, background, watches his son Cale wrestle in the 135-pound finals of the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association tournament Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Mona Shores High School in Norton Shores, Mich. (Photo by Stephanie Moore)

“He didn’t think much of it because that happens to him sometimes and he just kept training the horse and finished it out,” Cale Coppess said. “The good horseman’s idea is you don’t finish training your horse until you end on a good note, and so then once he got to that good note, he untacked, let the horse go and came inside.

“He came inside and just was, like, washing his hands and stuff. I happened to be in the bathroom and saw his chin split open and he’s got blood trickling down his sweatshirt. At first, I thought it was a cool design on his sweatshirt, then I realized it was blood. I said, ‘Dad, your chin’s split open. You should probably go to the ER.’”

As Cale remembers, his dad didn’t think much of the injury because he couldn’t feel it. He was used to cuts, bruises and such while training horses.

What Cale has never forgotten: Always finish what you start.

“If you make a promise, you follow through on everything you say you’re going to do,” Cale Coppess said. “He said he was going to train that horse and he wasn’t going to stop or let getting his chin cut open stop him from training that horse.

“I feel like that’s a very important thing to do if you want to be successful in life.”

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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