For Puyallup High wrestler Josh Franich, the greatest sound he hears isn’t one people typically think of first.
It’s the one that comes from within the junior before he wrestles each match. It’s the voice telling him this is his match, his time to shine. It’s also heard in the routine Franich goes through as he paces outside the circle with a big grin on his face before every match.
This voice is the voice of a wrestler’s confidence, built from the success of a young life. It has played a key role in leading Franich to a 38-5 record this season including an individual championship in the 138-pound bracket Saturday at the Beserker Tournament at Curtis High.
It’s the voice that pushes him on the mat — and it’s the only thing Franich hears.
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“When I go into my match, I take my (hearing) aid out so I don’t destroy it when I wrestle,” Franich said.
When it’s in, Franich can hear with only his right ear. He’s completely deaf from his left side. While Franich may not hear the world around him, he feels every little detail out there.
When I’m out there, it’s silence. I don’t hear anything.
“He can feel when the ref slaps the mat. He can feel when the crowd cheers or when they stomp their feet,” said Josh’s father, Brian. “He can hear that way.”
Josh was born completely deaf, and about 13 months after his birth, he underwent a procedure to receive a cochlear hearing implant. The surgery implanted an eternal device in his skull behind his right ear, with a hearing device on the outside that allows him to hear.
“When I’m out there, it’s silence. I don’t hear anything,” Josh said.
A cochlear implant is different from typical hearing aids as it sends a device that bypasses damaged portions of the ear and sends auditory signals straight to the auditory nerves, whereas hearing aids simply amplify the sound around a person.
The procedure is tough on any person as they have to make the adjustments to their new lives. But for Franich, it’s been the only life he knows.
“When he was a baby, he didn’t make any sounds or make any fuss,” Brian said. “We thought he was a happy baby … that aspect about him is still there.”
There was a time in Franich’s life where athletics weren’t an option. With a family built on sports and competitiveness, it was impossible to keep him from a sporting life for too long.
“We wanted to be cautious at first because of his implant, and we didn’t want him to break it,” Brian said. “But with three other siblings to compete with, it wasn’t long before he was out there with them. He and Hailey will go at it ... they’ll knock over anything in their path.”
Or even nail a knockout blow that only a sibling knows how to do — especially one like Haley Franich, who’s now at Arizona State, that finished her wrestling career with a second-place finish (105) last year at Mat Classic XXVII.
“He’s such a goober,” Haley joked about Josh before his championship match at the Wilfong Classic in December. “He’s confident, but there are times where I have to put him in his place — bring him back down a little.”
It’s only typical to have a sibling rivalry that drives wrestlers to be at their best, no matter where the venue is. Even if it’s at home.
“All I remember (one time) was being woken up by paramedics in my kitchen,” Josh said of one particular clash with Hailey. “I don’t know how it started, but she got me on my back and in a choke hold. I passed out quickly after that.”
“She usually gets the best of him,” Brian said with a laugh. “She’s tougher than she looks.”
The roughhousing — whether it was with Haley, older brother Brandon or younger one Taylor — was part of the life Josh was born into. That includes a rich tradition of wrestling.
Life on the mat
Wrestling is a tradition in for the Franich family, dating all the way back when Brian wrestled for Wilson High in Tacoma, from 1990 to 1993.
And following suite, each of Brian’s children took on the family tradition. But for Josh, his time watching both Brandon and Haley built something more.
It built a natural wrestler.
Josh has (some) of the best balance I’ve ever coached before. It’s hard to put him on his back because he has the agility and strength to maneuver away from takedowns.
Puyallup coach Aaron Lee
“Josh has (some) of the best balance I’ve ever coached before. It’s hard to put him on his back because he has the agility and strength to maneuver away from takedowns,” Puyallup coach Aaron Lee said. “He has a great understanding about what he can do, and that comes from a lifetime of wrestling.”
But it’s also the natural ability in which Josh picks things up. Ever since Josh was a child, he was a sponge to the world around him, picking up any little details to better improve himself. In his wrestling world, anything he saw his two older siblings do, he knew he could utilize the same techniques himself — all in the effort to make himself better and continue his winning ways.
“If I knew I could do something I saw them (Brandon and Haley) perform during one of their matches, I would use it to when I wrestled,” Josh said.
That instinct and understanding led to a successful youth wrestling career as Josh would go on to be undefeated from third until seventh grade, where he went on to become a five-time junior state wrestling champion.
Expectations were mounting for Josh as his high school career approached. As the pressures built, Josh became disenfranchised with everything. Life became hard when wrestling was around 24/7.
“I quit for two years because I was burnt out. I didn’t want to do it anymore,” Josh admitted.
I quit for two years because I was burnt out. I didn’t want to do it anymore.
The love of wrestling returned for Josh once he because a sophomore at Puyallup, combined with the fact that father Brian was coaching Haley her final year. Josh said it felt right for him to return back to the sport.
But his season was in jeopardy as the inner device of his cochlear implant failed him, so by late October, he had surgery to repair his device.
“The device needed to be changed, so we chose to have the surgery to repair it,” Brian said. “I think it was about three weeks out from the (start of) season.”
The surgery was difficult, but the prospect of not wrestling was worse.
“It was tough because doctors said I shouldn’t wrestle (last year),” Josh said. “I just wanted to get out there.”
Within two months, Josh was wrestling for Puyallup showcasing his natural skills. After a slow start, Franich was able to reach state as an alternate.
“I didn’t have a real good districts,” Josh said. “I felt I could have done more.”
This year Franich has been on a roll. After many successes, including a title at Berserker, the junior entered the week as the seventh-ranked 138-pound wrestler in Class 4A.
Franich’s recent run began a month ago in Bremerton at the Gut Check Challenge Wrestling Tournament.
At that tournament, the Puyallup junior was a man on fire, defeating a defending 1A state champion, Granger High’s Franky Almaguer in a 138-pound match in the round of 16, and the 2A defending state champion, Toppenish’s Josue Rodriguez, in a 126-pound match in the semifinals.
“I felt confident … to be able to defeat two state champions before wrestling the world champion from Japan was a great feeling,” Franich said.
Franich’s luck ran out at Cut Check when he squared off against world champion Taishi Narikuni from Japan’s U-18 team in the 138-pound finals. Franich had the best performance against Narikuni.
I want to get to state, not as an alternate like last year ... I don’t want to miss out on state again.
Franich lost to Narikuni in a 6-0 decision in the finals after the Japanese champion picked up two pins and technical falls before facing the Viking junior.
With the district tournament only a week and a half away, Franich has the time to improve and get better.
“I want to get to state — not as an alternate, like last year,” he admitted. “I don’t want to miss out on state again.”
And when he gets there, Josh Franich will feel all the sound rush over him. He’s already there — he already hears it.
“I know I can get there,” Franich confidently said.