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AJ Muthersbaugh’s dream of capturing a state wrestling title is back on the table.

That wasn't the case until recently after the Lincoln East senior suffered a shoulder injury during football season.

A separated AC joint and minor fracture of the collarbone restricted Muthersbaugh’s football productivity at first, but by wrestling season, the pain became unbearable.

“It got to the point where I couldn’t really move my arm up or down,” he said. “I was really frustrated. I just thought it was unfair.”

He had surgery on his shoulder to remove scar tissue and repair his joint and collarbone, but his senior year didn’t stop there.

“Coach (Jeff) Rutledge and my family kind of made me realize that if I worked my tail off, I could be back,” Muthersbaugh said.

So that’s where he set his sights.

Muthersbaugh filled a different role on the sideline for the Spartans this season. He said he “kind of felt like another coach” because East wrestlers would ask him questions and pick his brain on his experiences as a state runner-up at 182 pounds last season.

But behind the scenes, he was putting in the training to get back on that mat.

“I texted our trainer the day after my surgery,” Muthersbaugh said. “But he said I needed to rest. So I was just really anxious to get back in the room.”

Muthersbaugh lifted a lot of weights to regain the strength in his shoulder and kept up on conditioning to be ready when the time came.

Nearly four months later, Muthersbaugh was right back where he was last season, contributing to a Lincoln East team district championship. His return to action came during the state duals championships nearly two weeks ago.

Rutledge said he didn’t expect Muthersbaugh to be back as soon as he was, but the work ethic of his 182-pounder didn’t surprise him at all.

“When he came back, he was ready to go,” Rutlege said. “He kind of gave us a spark we needed. He’s just a team player. I think when some kids have an injury, they lose hope. AJ was always hopeful and around the team. He was never in a sense ‘gone.’”

Muthersbaugh said he has big plans this weekend at the CHI Health Center Omaha.

Two state titles are in the works, both an individual and a repeat team title.

But for now, the daily work ethic approach is what Rutledge, Muthersbaugh and the rest of the Spartans plan on taking to Omaha.

“Every year is different,” Rutledge said. “We’ve got a team that fights. They will fight to the end, and that’s the morale in the room. We’re just going to give it the best we got and see how everything shakes out."

Muthersbaugh is one of 12 Spartans competing at the state tournament. Maxx Mayfield (138 pounds) and Chance Fry (152) are seeking to repeat as individual champions.

State wrestling begins with the Class A and D session at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Consolation matches and semifinals are Friday and finals are Saturday.

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