Brandon wrestlers Kyle Koziel and Rossi Bruno took a quick-breakfast break at the McDonald’s on State Road 60, not far from the right-hand turn on Kings Avenue to the left-hand turn on Victoria Street, to the school that houses the Eagles Nest.
There, Brandon High School, which traces its legacy to the 1914 opening of the Brandon School, is hosting the 27th Annual Tony Ippolito Memorial Wrestling Tournament, a two-day tournament featuring the No. 1-ranked Brandon Eagles and 30 other teams.
The 2011 tournament began Jan. 21 and ends Jan. 22; the finals are expected to start at around 5 p.m.
History is not lost on the two Brandon wrestlers meeting Jan. 22 at McDonald’s for breakfast after their morning weigh-ins.
Koziel and Bruno are both juniors and they both joined the team after “The Streak,” as the town called it, ended in 2007, with the Eagles first loss in 34 years. The streak stands at 459 consecutive victories and 468 matches without defeat, a high school record for any sport.
But there’s another streak of uncommon achievement for the Brandon High School wrestlers: This year the Eagles are competing for the school’s 11th wrestling state championship in a row.
“It’s crazy to think that for the past decade we’ve had the best team in Florida,” Bruno said. “It’s just a tribute to coach (Russ) Cozart and how awesome of a coach he is. He knows how to get the best out of each one of his wrestlers. We’re all going to be peaking by time state tournament comes around and that’s how it should be.”
Koziel, whose brother, Keith, wrestled with Brandon the year before the infamous streak ended, agreed.
“It’s unbelievable,” Kyle Koziel said about the string of consecutive state championships. “We all put hard work into it all year to be on top of our game.”
Koziel, too, gave Kozart high marks.
“Every day at practice he works out himself,” Koziel said. “He wouldn’t make us do anything he wouldn’t do. How many world titles does he have? He knows what it takes.”
“He doesn’t try to be your friend,” Bruno added. “He’s rather be your coach then your friend but well still love him. He is our friend.”
Both Koziel and Bruno won three matches Jan. 21 to advance to the semi-finals of the Ippolito tournament.
Bruno, 18, weighed in Jan. 22 at 132.4 pounds. He said he moved with his family to Brandon from Wisconsin “to get away from the cold weather, pretty much.”
“I started wrestling when I was three and I moved here in the seventh grade,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we picked to move here. When I was in Wisconsin, in sixth grade, I wrestled Clark Glass, who was from Brandon, in the nationals.”
Koziels’s family, too, found its way to Brandon, drawn by the school’s coveted wrestling reputation.
“I started wrestling in New Jersey,” said Koziel, 17, who weighed in at 172.8 pounds. “We moved further south. Over the years, my brother wrestled and he wanted to wrestle for Brandon, because they were the best, so we moved up here when I was in the seventh grade.”
Rossi and Koziel talked about their mindsets on the mat, in the heat of competition.
“I tune out a lot of voices except certain ones, like Rossi's, my dad's and, of course, coach’s,” Koziel said. “They’re not going to tell me to do something wrong.”
Bruno issued a similar sentiment.
“I just try to tune everything out," Bruno said, "and listen to him (Koziel), my coach and my dad and try to focus on dominating my opponent.”
Bruno and Koziel said they became fast — and best — friends shortly after meeting at Brandon High.
Between them they had six pins to enter the semi-final round of the 27th annual Ippolito tournament.