A Slight Delay
By Larry Watts
The seed had first been planted during his junior season. Looking to both his future and the future of the Northwestern wrestling program, the Wildcat coaching staff began talking with Brandon Precin about taking a redshirt season for his senior year.
The 2009-10 campaign would be the last of 20 years for veteran Tim Cysewski as the Wildcats' head coach. He would make the move to associate head coach this winter as former Wildcat Drew Pariano, Cysewski's assistant for the past five seasons, took over.
The Wildcats were on the brink of landing the No. 2 wrestling class in the nation, but it would need some veteran guidance, so Precin and Jason Welch, an NCAA qualifier at 157 as a true freshman in 2009, were asked to wrestle unattached last year. In the meantime, with some big holes to fill in the lineup, the Wildcats would take their lumps, finishing 1-7 in Big Ten duals and last at the Big Ten Championships.
"It was tough to be at the dual meets sitting in the stands when the team was competing," Precin says. "You always want to be in the middle of the action, so that was the hardest part of redshirting. I had been thrown right into the mix as a true freshman and now all I could do for the team was help mentor some of the young guys."
But if the 125-pounder realizes his ultimate goal, wrestling in the 2012 Olympics, it is a worthwhile price he was willing to pay.
As a true freshman, Precin qualified for the NCAA Championships, where he posted a 2-2 record. As a sophomore, he earned his first All-America honor after taking seventh. He was 37-9 on the season, including a stretch of 21 consecutive wins. He came back as a junior to take third at the NCAA Championships, finishing the year with a 33-4 record, dropping three matches to former NCAA champs, and earned his second All-America title. He posted a 17-1 record in duals and placed second in the Big Ten.
Precin, who is ranked No. 2 nationally, posted a 103-28 record during his first three seasons. He rejoins the Wildcats after logging a 21-3 slate in open meets last year.
"I was able to be at some of the tournaments with the team, which was really nice, but otherwise it was going with some of the younger guys to various open meets," he says. "I took on the role of older brother so to speak. It's always nice to help get guys in the right direction, especially when they need some advice or encouragement.
"Although it was hard, I think the year was good for me in terms of personal growth. Coming back again this season definitely helps in my training and plans for 2012."
Although he already had a taste of international freestyle competition (collegians compete by folkstyle rules), Precin says the year off helped more in preparation for what he will be doing after college. He took third at 55 kilograms (121 pounds) in the World Team Trials last spring and is currently ranked fourth on the U.S. freestyle ladder.
"This was the first time I was able to train more and give more focus to freestyle," he says. "In the past, I had been wrestling at 60 kilos (132 pounds) and I found myself to be a little undersized. At 121, it's closer to my collegiate weight and it feels more natural to me."
A two-time state champion out of Sandburg High School, the Orland Park, Il. native says he never needed any extra encouragement from Wildcat head football coach Pat Fitzgerald, a fellow Sandburg alum, in selecting Northwestern over Illinois, Central Michigan, Cornell, Columbia and Northern Illinois.
"It was just the whole combination of things -- academics, athletics, close to home and Chicago," says the 5-foot-4 Precin, who will graduate after the winter quarter with a double major in secondary teaching and history. "I just thought Northwestern offered a world class experience and I felt most comfortable here."
Precin began wrestling at the age of 8. His father had wrestled in high school and his uncles on his mother's side had been wrestlers. A great uncle ran a club team in the area.
"They took me over to join and I thought it was going to be like on TV," he says with a laugh. "I envisioned myself jumping off the high rope Hulk Hogan style."
For now, Precin, who is one of three team captains, is only thinking about the path back to the NCAA Championships and helping a young Wildcat program make an impact. He shouldn't have to go far to find tough competition because some of the top 125-pound wrestlers, including top-ranked Matt McDonough of Iowa, are in the Big Ten.
"The coaching switch has been very smooth and there really haven't been any big changes," he says. "All the practices are still hard-nosed."
There are times at practice when Precin will even square off with Cysewski, a former 134-pound All-America at Iowa.
"He's still going at it," Precin says of his coach. "The first thing he did to me as a freshman was hit me with a foot sweep. He kicked my foot out and I went down like I was Charlie Brown trying to kick a football, so I've learned not to plant my feet too hard. Every now and then, he will still try to bring that foot sweep on me."
Precin can think of nothing better than to be standing on the top step of that podium at the NCAA Championships this year.
"It would not only mean a lot to me, but it would be a reflection of the effort and support my coaches, family and teammates have made on my behalf," he says. "They would have played just as significant role in helping me become an All-American for the third time."
Following the NCAA Championships, he will turn his focus to freestyle for the rest of his competitive career. The Senior Nationals will be the first big meet on his agenda with the winner obtaining an automatic berth to the championship of the U.S. World Team Trials. The rest of the field would then have to compete again in a challenge tournament to determine who would face the Senior Nationals champ in a best-of-three match.
There will also be a series of international meets and training camps, all leading up to the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2012.
"There are plenty of tough guys in my weight class, but at this point it's up for grabs," Precin says. "I figure I have as good a shot as anyone to get that spot on the Olympic team."
But don't count on seeing him using that Northwestern degree in a classroom anytime soon. If Precin has his way, his classroom will be the Northwestern wrestling room, where he can both train and tutor future Wildcats as long as possible.
"I have enough trouble remembering what I ate for lunch, let alone those dates in history," he says with a laugh.