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Up to the challenge

Published Aug. 24, 2005

Now in its 32nd year, Brandon's record streak of 397 consecutive dual-match victories will be put to the test on Friday and Saturday _ sort of.

Yes, the Eagles are hosting the third annual Jim Graves Challenge the Streak Duals Tournament, which involves 16 state teams. But, no, the "challenge" shouldn't get too serious.

Brandon, winners of 15 state titles, appears to have far too much firepower, a fact coach Russ Cozart feels comfortable with as he opened the challenge to every school in the state.

"I don't hear anyone accusing us of dodging the tougher competition anymore," Cozart said. "But my phone isn't ringing off the hook by coaches wanting to be in the tournament either."

Clearwater Countryside was the toughest competitor in the first two challenge tournaments, but the Cougars program has an interim coach and is in the middle of a rebuilding season. The Cougars, which lost by 35 to Brandon in each final the past two years, didn't challenge this year.

The top remaining challengers include Venice, Cardinal Gibbons, St. Thomas Aquinas, Durant, Fort Lauderdale Douglas, Lakeland Lake Gibson, Chamberlain, Jesuit and Sickles.

The format, set up in brackets with teams wrestling full squads against each other, gets Brandon's juggernaut particularly pumped.

"This is exciting for us," Brandon coach Russ Cozart said. "It's exciting to showcase this event. It really puts forth a great team atmosphere, and it's like a big home meet for us."

After two regular-season matches (wins, of course) and a third-place finish at the country-wide Beast of the East tournament in Delaware, the Eagles are looking forward to the match.

"These guys have been working so hard," Cozart said. "They're really looking forward to getting into the gym with all the other teams in front of the crowd."

Four Eagles will take center stage: Franklin Gomez, Cesar Grajales, Rocky Cozart and David Craig.

Gomez, a 119-pound senior, is coming off the individual championship at the Beast tournament. He moved up a weight class last season and placed third at the state finals.

A 125-pound senior, Grajales lost just once in 50 matches last season and placed second at the Beast tournament. He has signed a college scholarship with the University of Pennsylvania.

Rocky Cozart, Russ' son, also won 49 of 50 matches last year en route to an individual state title. He has dominated this season at 160 pounds. Cozart has signed with Michigan State.

Craig, a junior, has not lost a match yet. The 171-pounder went 48-0 in 2003 to claim a championship. Coach Cozart credits Craig's maturity as an athlete as his biggest asset.

Times correspondent Rod Gipson contributed to this report.