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Brandon High wrestlers continue to dominate

Brandon’s Travis Berridge wrestles Kissimmee Osceola’s Pete Baldwin in the 145-pound Class 3A finals in Lakeland on Feb. 19. Brandon won its 11th consecutive state title — and its 22nd state crown overall.

Photo by PHELAN M. EBENHACK

Brandon’s Travis Berridge wrestles Kissimmee Osceola’s Pete Baldwin in the 145-pound Class 3A finals in Lakeland on Feb. 19. Brandon won its 11th consecutive state title — and its 22nd state crown overall.

LAKELAND

The list of accomplishments might seem endless and even a bit monotonous to onlookers, but don't be fooled.

Winning has not become passe for the Brandon High wrestling team, which captured another state title last weekend. In fact, coach Russ Cozart and his latest group of wrestlers see success as a responsibility.

They must uphold the tradition.

"There's always pressure," Cozart said. "We keep high standards here, and I don't let them forget that. They're just ordinary kids, and they need discipline and guidance just like other teenagers."

In 41 years, Brandon wrestling has built a dynasty, and like most dynasties — the Yankees or the Lakers — people tend to tire of their accomplishments. For Brandon, it's 22 state championships (including 11 consecutive titles), a 468-match undefeated streak and a 457-match winning streak.

All of these marks are state records, and the two streaks are national high school records across all sports.

• • •

It's that culture of success that spurs on the Eagles and even intimidates opponents. A 14-year-old Brandon freshman may be revered by his opponent simply because of the maroon and white uniform he wears when he enters the circle.

Other programs around the state forge their efforts in the Brandon mold. When Springstead coach Eric Swensen was hired seven years ago, one of the first things he pointed out was the caliber of the Eagles team.

That model would be what he needed to turn his own squad around. Springstead won this past season's Class 2A state title, the first in school history.

"You can't help but look at what they do and try to do the same," Swensen said. "At some point, you have to do your own thing, though. You respect Russ for what he does with those boys, because he's got the longevity."

Gulf and Citrus had similar game plans this decade and took familiar paths to success. The Buccaneers won the Class A title last year, and the Hurricanes enjoyed multiple region titles. No one, though, has enjoyed the prolonged prosperity of Brandon.

Of the 12 competitors to ever win four state titles, half of them have worn maroon and white, including Eric and Cesar Grajales, David Craig, Joey Cozart and current team members Clark Glass and Rossi Bruno.

Nationally, the team also has also benefited. With more than 150 All-Americans and almost 90 national champions, the Eagles counts many players who've gained college scholarships.

Eric Grajales is a sophomore at Michigan. Cesar Grajales was a four-time NCAA qualifier at Penn. David Craig got a full ride to Lehigh. Joey Cozart is attending Iowa State; his older brother Rocky attended Michigan State.

Franklin Gomez was a NCAA Champion as a junior at Michigan State and twice placed third in the tournament. Josh Lambrecht placed second at the NCAA Tournament as a junior at Oklahoma.

"When I decided to go into coaching many years ago, I wanted to instill character," Russ Cozart said. "I am proud of the boys to come out of this program and what they have been able to do after leaving here."

• • •

Pride is a product of the family atmosphere that Cozart maintains. It has been that way since he took over 31 years ago, and he'd have it no other way.

His top assistant, Bob Hendrickson, has been on staff since 1989. A Brandon graduate in 1985, Hendrickson has his name on the locker room "Wall of Fame," which honors all state placers in school history. The coach is on there for his 112-pound state championship as a senior. He went 58-5 over the course of his prep career.

"It's really great," Cozart said. "I would be a little lost without (Hendrickson). When we get to the state meet, it's all business."

His second assistant has been with the team for 10 years. Mike Ferrario graduated from Brandon in 1998 and was a member of the state title teams in both 1997 and 1998.

While some may misconstrue the grapplers' confidence for ego, one can never overlook the work that they put in. Chronicled in the 2008 ESPN documentary The Streak, Brandon wrestling has a chemistry that allows these athletes to bond.

It's no wonder they feel so strongly about winning.

"It's something I feel like we deserve," three-time state champion Kevin Norstrem said. "No one has worked as hard as we have."

Brandon High wrestlers continue to dominate 02/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 24, 2011 3:31am]

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