North Dakota State University wrestling has a code of conduct.

If you walk into the wrestling room wearing a different team’s t-shirt, you’re good as gone. You’re kicked out of the room and you’re not allowed to wrestle that day.

The pride and toughness that North Dakota State really stood out to Maxwell Petersen. When he learned about that code, he knew then and there that NDSU was the place he wanted to be. The University of Minnesota came in and pushed for Petersen to be a Gopher, but no one wanted Petersen more than the Bison.

The state champion from Byron still has two years remaining in his high school career, but he already knew where his heart was.

Byron’s Maxwell Petersen, top, wrestles Princeton’s Parker Adkins in a Class AA state individual wrestling 120-pound match Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)
Byron’s Maxwell Petersen, top, wrestles Princeton’s Parker Adkins in a Class AA state individual wrestling 120-pound match Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)

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“They’re dedicated to their team, and they have great coaches,” Petersen said. “They have a great culture. They can help get me to higher levels. They invested a lot of time into me.”

Petersen’s from a wrestling family. They live and breathe Byron wrestling. Matthew Petersen was a state champion for Byron and went on to wrestle at Minnesota State University, Mankato for two years.

Mitchel Petersen won a state title for Byron and is currently a freshman at NDSU. Maxwell will get to join Mitchel in a couple of years. Byron coach Ryan Radke believes that the Petersens' mom, Amy, knows more about wrestling than him.

“It’s exciting because NDSU has a great program,” Radke said. “I’m honestly super excited for the family. The family doesn’t have to worry about watching Mitchel and Maxwell on different weekends. It’s a great family fit and a great personal fit.”

But the road to the top of the podium wasn’t always that easy for Maxwell Petersen. Matthew and Mitchel were natural wrestlers from the get-go. Radke could tell that they were built for special things as early as first grade. But Maxwell didn’t have that same feel early in his career.

Byron's Maxwell Petersen reacts after losing the 120-pound Class AA championship match against Totino-Grace's Joey Thompson on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)
Byron's Maxwell Petersen reacts after losing the 120-pound Class AA championship match against Totino-Grace's Joey Thompson on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)

In first grade, Petersen finished third in a meet and the tears started to run down his face. He looked up at Amy Petersen and asked, “Mom, why don’t I ever win first? My brothers always win first. I never win first.”

“I kept getting my butt kicked,” Petersen said. “I wasn’t that athletic. I didn’t want to cut weight. I was barely winning matches. Then in third grade, I saw some progress. And then I had more success in fourth grade and that got me to go all in. I didn’t like wrestling until like fourth grade. That’s when I actually loved wrestling. That’s when I wanted to get good.”

Radke added: “He was a late bloomer. He got sick of losing. He started to develop a work ethic at a much younger age because he just got so sick of losing. Matthew kicked his butt. Mitchel kicked his butt. Eventually, he got sick of it and flipped around and by fifth or sixth grade, it was like, ‘He really turned it around.’”

The years of getting beaten up on the mat by his older brothers have now paid off. Petersen is the unquestioned leader in the Byron wrestling room. He's going to be a team captain for each of the next two years. He won his state title in 2018 as an eighth-grader, but each of the last two years, he's fallen in hard-fought state championship matches.

"If he lost, he would get really mad," Radke said. "He wasn’t a pouter and he wouldn't throw his headgear, but he just refuses to let that happen again. He's not a sore loser. After losing to Joey Thompson twice, he was like, 'I didn't do enough right. That is going to be the last time I ever lose in the high school state tournament.' You want that mindset to rub off on other people."

Byron's Maxwell Petersen, right, wrestles Totino-Grace's Joey Thompson in the 120-pound Class AA championship match Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Petersen lost by a 7-4 decision. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)
Byron's Maxwell Petersen, right, wrestles Totino-Grace's Joey Thompson in the 120-pound Class AA championship match Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Petersen lost by a 7-4 decision. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)

That mindset of absolutely refusing to accept defeat is what makes Petersen special. It's what makes him different. He's next in line from a standout group of wrestlers from southeastern Minnesota.

In two years, he'll head to North Dakota State with national championships as his ultimate goal. But for the next two years, his only objective is to win every single match he's in.

And he'll make sure not to forget to wear Bison T-shirts to practice.

"Hard work can pay off," Petersen said. "It’s amazing, I can’t believe I’m a part of it. When I was a kid, this is what I dreamed about."

Lake City's Jonathan Harvey wrestles Byron's Maxwell Petersen during the Section 1AA 120-pound championship Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Lake City's Jonathan Harvey wrestles Byron's Maxwell Petersen during the Section 1AA 120-pound championship Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Byron's Maxwell Petersen, top, wrestles Totino-Grace's Joey Thompson during a Minnesota Christmas Wrestling Tournament championship 120-pound match Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at the Rochester Community and Technical College Field House in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Byron's Maxwell Petersen, top, wrestles Totino-Grace's Joey Thompson during a Minnesota Christmas Wrestling Tournament championship 120-pound match Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at the Rochester Community and Technical College Field House in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Byron's Maxwell Petersen, top, wrestles Totino-Grace's Joey Thompson during a Minnesota Christmas Wrestling Tournament championship 120-pound match Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at the Rochester Community and Technical College Field House in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Byron's Maxwell Petersen, top, wrestles Totino-Grace's Joey Thompson during a Minnesota Christmas Wrestling Tournament championship 120-pound match Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at the Rochester Community and Technical College Field House in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Byron's Maxwell Petersen, right, wrestles Totino-Grace's Joey Thompson during a Minnesota Christmas Wrestling Tournament championship 120-pound match Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at the Rochester Community and Technical College Field House in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Byron's Maxwell Petersen, right, wrestles Totino-Grace's Joey Thompson during a Minnesota Christmas Wrestling Tournament championship 120-pound match Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at the Rochester Community and Technical College Field House in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)