Griswold's Brandon Walsh takes New England wrestling crown

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Jewett City - posted Fri., Mar. 11, 2011
This year, Brandon Walsh is eyeing a shot at the national high school wrestling championship in the March 29 tournament in Virginia. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
This year, Brandon Walsh is eyeing a shot at the national high school wrestling championship in the March 29 tournament in Virginia. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Brandon Walsh already knows what it’s like to be a national wrestling champion. That’s a title he claimed in eighth grade.

Now he’s pursuing a national championship again, after an undefeated season (44-0) that took him to the top of the podium at the Eastern Connecticut Conference (ECC), state and New England championships. He’ll compete March 29 in the National High School Coaches’ Association wrestling championships in Virginia.

“Last year I took fourth place [at nationals],” said Walsh. At that level, he said, “everybody’s tough. I lost my first match so I had to win six in a row just to stay in. I can’t worry about how good the other people are. I just have to get ready.”

Walsh, a junior wrestling at 135 pounds, has been getting ready for this since the day in first grade when he first put on a singlet. “I used to do five or six sports,” he recalls. “But I was naturally good at wrestling, so I stuck with it.”

He worked his way up through the Griswold Youth Wrestling program, a twice-weekly training ground for aspiring grapplers, wrestling in their weekend open tournaments. By eighth grade – the first year Griswold sponsored a middle school wrestling team – he captured both the state and national title in his weight class.

Walsh has been on the podium at ECCs and Class S since freshman year, when he placed third at both tournaments. Last year, he climbed up to the top step, where he stayed this year.  He was runner-up last year at State Opens.

He’s the first Griswold wrestler to achieve a New England championship, said Griswold High School wrestling coach Dana Cooke.

“He’s a very smart wrestler,” said Cooke. “He knows that in the close matches, you’ve got to be able to score points, and he’s really good at that. He knows what to do to stay ahead. In state matches, you’re not going for the pin.”

And Walsh makes it look easy. In the thick of the action, he seems to be a center of calm, rarely, if ever, grimacing. “He doesn’t get into a panic in any case,” said Cooke. “Even during his losses, he doesn’t lose it. He says, ‘here’s what I’ve got to do.’ He’s not one to lose to [an opponent] twice.”

Although he plays safety and wide receiver for the Wolverine football team in the fall, wrestling season for Walsh lasts beyond the official February end. In the off-season he trains with the Silverback Wrestling Club in Willimantic, where, since seventh grade, he’s worked with Peter DeCarli, whom he calls “a great coach.”

The admiration is mutual. DeCarli called Walsh “a student of wrestling.”

 “One of the reasons for Brandon’s success is that he continues to improve,” said DeCarli. “He continues to learn technique. In all honesty, it’s refreshing to have a kid with that ability continue to learn. He never says ‘I can’t’. You tell him something, he says, ‘okay’ and keeps trying till he does it.”

DeCarli said that one of his assistants calls Walsh the “Clark Kent of wrestling.”

“He’s a gentleman off the mat. He overcomes pain, he deals with injury, he doesn’t whine. He never complains.

He’s a great kid – very respectful, quiet, reserved,” he said. “He’s a model kid all the way around.”

 As a junior, Walsh is bracing for the June 1 onset of college recruitment. Cooke said that New England wrestlers typically are overlooked by college recruiters, who focus on the wrestling-rich Midwestern states. “Out west, wrestling’s at a whole ‘nother level,” he said. “For New England wrestlers, the way to get noticed is to go to the national tournaments.”

Walsh has yet another weapon in his arsenal that colleges might find appealing – his A average. He’s taking honors-level classes, and is signed up next year for advanced-placement calculus and physics, with an eye to majoring in pre-med in college.

“I definitely plan on going to college,” he said. “I’d like to go where there’s a wrestling team, but academics are more important.”

DeCarli said that with Walsh’s grades, the Ivy League schools may come calling this summer. “He definitely has the ability to wrestle in a Division 1 program,” he said.

And, said Cooke, “he’s got the grades to back it up.”

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