It’s no longer news that Brandon High School dominates the wrestling scene, or that Head Coach Russ Cozart — at the helm for 21 of the school's 22 state crowns — knows his sport as well as anyone.
Or that there isn’t just one streak for the record books, but many — and many of which are not expected to be broken any time soon, if ever.
That families move to Brandon to wrestle for Cozart is no secret to the people who know and observe Brandon wrestling, which is a hard thing not to notice if you follow the sport. The team owns a 34-year streak of consecutive dual-meet victories, which ended Jan. 5, 2008 at number 459.
No secret, too, that Cozart nurtures his players from a young age.
That former players dream about having their kids wrestle for Cozart.
And that boys just years after they learn to walk dream about wrestling for Brandon, having participated in one of his many youth program and tournaments, such as the one held at Brandon High on Feb. 20, the day after the 2011 Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) Class 3A state tournament ended.
So, does it ever get old?
“It never gets old," said volunteer coach Mike Ferrario, one of many former Brandon wrestlers still active with the program. "And it never gets old winning a state title."
“I’ve wrestled for Russ Cozart and I’ve now coached with him for 22 years,” said assistant coach Bob Hendrickson. “I think what he does with this program is second to none and he continuously looks for ways to better the program. I don’t think he’s going to be happy until he has 14 state champions in one year.”
“It’s a heck of a goal,” Hendrickson added, shortly after the last match at state competition, “but when you see what’s happening here, I think it’s a reasonable goal for Russ Cozart.”
Thirteen Brandon wrestlers collectively compiled the 269 team points that brought home the school’s 22nd state crown and it was the second year in a row that wrestlers qualified in each of the 14 weight classes. (Heavyweight Jo Dudley forfeited his match.)
Qualifying a wrestler in each weight class is a Brandon record, first set in 2004, the year the team also set the record for points at a state competition (271).
To put that accomplishment in perspective, consider that at the 2011 state competition, Brandon's 269-point total was three points higher than the combined scores of both the second- and third-place teams. The South Dade (Homestead) and Winter Springs teams scored 151 and 112 points, respectively.
So, does it ever get old to Cozart?
“Not yet,” he said.
Cozart knows the numbers, and the records, and the titles, including the fact that Brandon over the years has earned 90 individual state titles.
So, what matters most to Cozart?
For one thing, his youth program, he said, because when he was young, someone showed him the ropes and he knows how important that was to him both in life and in his quest for wrestling excellence.
His goals for Brandon wrestling are set high, he said, but that’s the point, for an elite-level program. And he knows, too, that he is losing only four seniors and has strong wrestlers coming in to complement “the great group of guys” who remain.
Despite all the wins, titles and records, Cozart on the record remains steadfast in his belief that it’s not the getting that’s great but rather the steps it takes to get there.
“Like I tell them,” Cozart said, “it’s not being on top of the mountain that’s exciting, but the work it takes to get there.”
Representing that work this year for Brandon wrestling are this year’s Class 3A state qualifiers, champions and placeholders:
- 103 pounds: Devan Berrian (50-10), second place
- 112 pounds: James Flint (50-5), first place
- 119 pounds: Victor Fugate
- 125 pounds: Kevin Norstrem (63-0), first place
- 130 pounds: Rossi Bruno (63-2), first place
- 135 pounds: Tyler Liberatore (50-0), first place
- 140 pounds: Brice Jones (48-17), fifth place
- 145 pounds: Travis Berridge (44-10), second place
- 152 pounds: Clark Glass (65-1), first place
- 160 pounds: Wally Figaro (64-2), first place
- 171 pounds: Kyle Koziel (62-1), first place
- 189 pounds: Mike Ettore (65-2), third place
- 215 pounds: Lorenzo Martinez
- 285 pounds: Jo Dudley (match forefeited)
For information on the matches, click here for brackets and scores.