Hello, My Name Is: Gunner Hoffmann

The Neillsville-Greenwood-Loyal wrestler overcame a fractured ankle in his senior season to end his career on top as a state champion
Published: Mar. 6, 2023 at 8:56 PM CST
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NEILLSVILLE, Wis. (WSAW) - Gunner Hoffmann grew up going to the state wrestling tournament with his dad.

“I was sitting there my eighth grade year and dad’s like, “This is the last time we’re here watching at fans right?’ and I was like, ‘Yep,’ said Hoffmann.

Hoffmann was true to his word. During his first three years for Neillsville-Greenwood-Loyal, not only did make it to the state tournament, he placed all three years. In his junior season, he came as close as possible to a title, finishing second after an overtime match.

“After I lost in the state finals junior year, I knew I wanted nothing more than to be a state champ as a senior,” said Hoffmann.

As a senior, Hoffmann came out with a vengeance. He went on a tear to start his final year until catastrophe struck at a tournament in Merrill in early January. In the championship match, Hoffmann’s opponent fell on his ankle, something he already had sprained earlier in the season.

”I seen him grab at his ankle right away,” said N-G-L wrestling coach Scott Bryant. “I was hoping that it wasn’t going to be anything serious, but then when I was talking with trainers and stuff after, they said it could be a possible fracture.”

Unfortunately, the trainers’ suspicions came true. Hoffmann was diagnosed with a fractured ankle, putting him in a boot and putting his dreams of a state title in jeopardy.

“My whole attitude and mood changed about things,” said Hoffmann. “I was depressed basically. Didn’t want to do much. Just sat there and thought, ‘Put all the work in for it to end like this,” said Hoffmann.

Through five weeks of patient conditioning and icing, Hoffmann was able to return to the mat just in time for regionals. In his first event back, Hoffmann pinned every opponent he saw that day. He’d do the exact same thing, winning only by pins, all the way to a state title.

“Just the fact that I was able to come back like that, it just gave me that extra drive to know I got an extra chance at what I wanted,” said Hoffmann.

By clinching a berth at state Hoffmann became just the fourth-ever Neillsville wrestler to qualify all four years for the state tournament. He and teammate Luke Dux are the only two wrestlers in the program’s history to place at state all four years.

Hoffmann had committed to Augsburg University next year. However, a feeling swept over him at state, as he realized that regardless of the outcome, he wanted to end his career on his terms.

“Saturday night before the finals, I didn’t tell my dad, Mr. Bryant, or any of my coaches, I told myself in the back of my mind that I wanted to put one last show on,” said Hoffmann. “In my opinion, that’s what I did in my finals match and then after my match, I told my dad and my coaches that I hoped they enjoyed watching my last wrestling match because I’d like to go out on top.”

Hoffmann ensured he did just that with his win over Porter Mandurano of Belmont/Platteville. The senior would end his career on top, while hugging his dad as a state champion, just like all those they had watched together on the very same floor.

“The relationship me and my dad gained on the mat and off the mat is something I can’t explain how close we’ve gotten,” said Hoffmann. “I don’t know how to explain it, it was awesome.”