Freshman wrestler takes on top contenders

Alex Atkinson

During high school in Maryland, Brandonn Johnson was a state champion, pinning and technical falling every wrestler he faced senior year.

A year later, Johnson found himself at Kent State as a red-shirt freshman trying to stay alive in Jim Andrassy’s practices.

Andrassy said while scouting Johnson, he saw he had the potential to be a good wrestler at the Division I level but hoped Johnson had the work ethic he needed to get himself into the shape he needed to be in.

“I saw the variables I think you need to be successful to compete at this level,” Andrassy said. “Most of the guys you go out to recruit, a third of them have the ability to make it in college wrestling.

“The question is: Do they have the work ethic to do what we do on a regular basis? That’s where you figure out if you have a great kid or not.”

Johnson said he was not sure if he could make it through Andrassy’s preseason practices.

“I thought about calling my mom and telling her I couldn’t do this,” Johnson said. “I never had this experience of coming into a room and getting my butt kicked left and right. I was the all-star (in high school). I remember for the first two months, I would be happy leaving the room if I got a single takedown.”

However, Johnson stuck with it and became one of the three recruits Andrassy talks about that have the work ethic it takes to succeed as a collegiate wrestler at the Division I level.

“I kept coming in the room and slowly it just got easier and easier,” Johnson said. “Once I started seeing success at open tournaments, it just got sweeter and made me hungry to go out and try my hardest.”

Now in his first year wrestling at Kent State, Johnson has faced the top four wrestlers in the nation and four others in the top 20.

“He probably had the toughest schedule out of anyone I’ve ever seen as a Kent State singlet,” Andrassy said.

The talent level of Johnson’s opponents is helping him gain experience quickly.

Andrassy compares Johnson to a little Dustin Kilgore in the way they wrestle. He said their talent level of wrestling might also have been similar if Johnson could have faced better competition in high school, something Maryland lacks.

“He might be where Kilgore was when Kilgore was a junior in high school,” Andrassy said. “(Johnson) is a few years behind Kilgore, but I think he still has the same type of mentality. (Johnson) doesn’t get tired very easily. He just goes real hard.”

Johnson said he is already reaping the benefits of the great competition he has faced early in the season. Whenever he steps on the mat, he is able to tell himself he already faced the best.

“Within my first ten matches, I already wrestled two or three of the top guys in the nation,” Johnson said. “That was a little discouraging, but once I faced competition at my level, I was dominating. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve already wrestled the best guys out there. It’s nothing to be scared of anymore.”

Andrassy said he hopes young Johnson can learn new offensive and defensive tactics from the experienced wrestlers he has already faced and use those new tactics in his future matches.

“As he looks back, if he could remember things they did, I think it could help him in the future if he works hard at it,” Andrassy said.

Johnson’s experience wrestling some of the top wrestlers in the nation earlier this year will be needed this weekend when the Flashes face Central Michigan at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Johnson, currently ranked No. 27 in the nation by, matches up against the Chippewas’s Ben Bennett. Bennett is currently No. 6 and was named All-American as a freshman last year.

Contact Alex Atkinson at [email protected]