BRANDON — The past several weeks Brandon has repositioned itself at the top of the power pole of state wrestling.
The Eagles' first true test of the season came before Christmas when they went to Miami to challenge the only team to beat them in a dual in almost 35 years.
South Dade brought back 12 of the 14 wrestlers who last season helped break the Eagles' streak of 459 consecutive dual match victories. Brandon replaced seven of its 14 starters from last year, among them four freshmen and two move-ins.
When the dust settled against South Dade, Brandon had won 54-15 and all four Eagles freshmen prevailed, as did 11 starters.
"The difference was we wrestled our kind of match," Brandon coach Russ Cozart said. "Our kids attacked and were dominant from the starting whistle. They were bent on winning."
Cozart singled out senior Kevin Timothy and sophomore Mike Ettore, who wrestled exceptionally well after losing in last year's dual with South Dade.
Timothy pinned his opponent and Ettore scored a 17-3 technical fall over Travus Webster, who defeated a Brandon state champion last year in the dual.
South Dade's Wilson Mettilus, second in the state last year, dropped from 135 pounds to 130 to avoid heralded senior Eric Grajales and face freshman Clark Glass. Glass won the match 6-2.
On Jan. 9, Brandon traveled to Appleton, Wis., to compete with 20 top teams from Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and other Northern states in the Cheesehead Tournament.
"There were three nationally ranked teams in that tournament and we were considered to be a weak team from Florida," Cozart said. "I could tell the change in the crowd as the tournament continued. Our kids gained respect and knocked off favorite after favorite until we finally won the team title."
As January winds down and the Ippolito Memorial Tournament nears (Friday-Saturday at Brandon), followed by the Hillsborough County Championships, then districts, Cozart is satisfied with the progress of his young team.
"They are doing as well as I hoped they would with only a few weeks left before the state championships," he said. "We went 28-0 in duals and won all of our tournaments so far."
Grajales and Tyler Liberatore are the only undefeated individuals. Grajales (135) is perhaps the best in the nation in his weight class and has committed to wrestle for Michigan next year.
Liberatore (125) seems to be on a path to become another Brandon superstar. The freshman won his first individual state championship as an eighth-grader at Tampa Prep and is a contender to repeat this year.
"We want to win our 19th state team championship this year and continue our new streak of eight consecutive state titles," Cozart said.