BRANDON — A year after Brandon wrestlers Clark Glass and Rossi Bruno achieved the stunning feat of winning five individual state titles, Eagles senior Kevin Norstrem is striving for five.
How does a high school student win five state championships? Simple, mathematically. Daunting, physically. Win one competing as a seventh or eighth-grader at a private school and then achieve perfection by winning a state title in all four of your high school years.
At Brandon, the quest for the elusive five-peat starts long before middle school. Norstrem remembers joining the Brandon Wrestling Club at the ripe age of five.
"Coach (Russ) Cozart gets us early," Norstrem said. "We wrestled right here in the Brandon High gym. At 6:30 the big kids would come in."
The club represents a wrestling farm system that would be the pride of any major league baseball team, and it fuels the state champion dreams at an early age. Norstrem pointed up at the imposing state champion list in the Brandon gym, a list that now not only has Norstrem's name on it; it has 2010, 2011, and 2012 next to it.
"As a kid, you dream about being on the Brandon wrestling team," Norstrem said. "You look up on that wall and you see all the state champs, you want to get your name up there — there's a constant drive and competition.
"There's still some room on there for one more," Norstrem said.
Norstrem attended Tampa Bay Christian as an eighth-grader and won a state title at 112 pounds. He has not let up, since.
"Once you settle, guys catch up with you," Norstrem said.
The 138-pound senior has done anything but settle. His 214-3 match record impresses as much as the three state titles. Norstrem has never let those losses go.
"I remember all three of those losses like they were yesterday," Norstrem said. "I run those matches through my mind and think about things I could have done differently."
Norstrem's record this season is 35-1, his only loss coming at a national tournament in Minnesota where he wrestled with a minor case of the flu. But no one is going to hand Norstrem that fifth state title based solely on his previous accomplishments.
"If there wasn't doubt (that I would win my fifth) I would be worried," Norstrem said. "It's a sport and you have to learn from it, but it could play out any way."
Chances are, it's going to play out the way Brandon, Norstrem and Cozart would like it to. Norstrem is currently ranked sixth in the nation at 138 pounds by Flo Wrestling, he's already beat the second-ranked wrestler in the state, and his approach to the sport has not changed since, well, forever.
"He's given 150 percent every day," Cozart said. "He's my team captain, our spokesman, a team leader; he's like a second son to me."
Does the promise, even the expectation, of striving for five hang over Norstrem?
"Yes, in all these matches leading up to states, I'm thinking, 'That guy almost scored on me'," Norstrem said. "I'll go back and try to correct those little things so I can work out all the kinks by states."
Having seen Glass and Bruno go before him may have helped — a bit.
"There might be a little less pressure, but it's no different — it's flat-out tough," Cozart said.
It's not exactly uncharted water anymore, and it's been charted by two athletes who Norstrem could not be closer to.
"I grew up with them," Norstrem said. "It's something we've always worked for."
As mind-blowing as winning five state titles might be, it's only a stepping-stone in Norstrem's long-term goals as a wrestler. Norstrem admits that winning five state titles has been a goal all along, but not the only one.
"My short-term goal was to get to states, mid-term goal is five state titles, my long term goal is a national title in college," said Norstrem, who will attend Virginia Tech next fall.
Andy Warrener can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.