Brian Wood didn’t think he would get to this point.
The Manhattan High senior was in the first month of his junior wrestling season when he felt something wrong in his right knee while the team was competing at the Flatwater Fracas in Grand Island, Neb.
Wood took a short injury timeout to self-examine his right knee, his ACL torn. So what was the then-junior to do?
“It hurt, but my adrenaline was going so I finished the match,” he said. “I realized it and took injury time, but I got back in there and finished it, and I pinned him.”
That’s just how Wood is, and MHS coach Robert Gonzales wouldn’t expect anything less from the 170-pound senior, who he indentifies as one of the toughest he has seen in 35 years of coaching.
Wood is 33-6 this season and has posted a school-record 29 pins as he entered the Class 6A state tournament today in Wichita.
Gonzales said Wood has a reputation as being tough. And if his opponents don’t know about it at the start of the match, they find out soon.
“They see him and they look at him and at first they don’t think much, but then you can tell some of them are scared, I’ve seen them backing away,” he said. “He just gets in there and puts them on their back, he is just deceptively strong.”
Wood admits that he does try to intimidate his opponents before the matches, and said he does so by looking good during warm ups. And as part of his in-match strategy, he often tries to pick the other opponent up to flip him on his back.
“It’s my strategy, just to scare them a little bit,” he said. “It’s working I think because I have 29 pins.”
But again, there was a time when Wood didn’t think he would be in the position to compete at this year’s state meet. After his injury in December of 2010, Wood continued to wrestle well into February and into the league tournament.
The season came to a halt there though, when Wood said it became too tough to go on.
“I just tried to work through and finish the season, but I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I wrestled all the way up to league and then I couldn’t wrestle anymore on it because it hurt too much — it was awful.”
What was worse for Wood was seeing guys he had beaten during the season find success at the state tournament.
“The toughest part was knowing how good I could have done, and seeing how well people I beat did at state,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to do good. I knew it was going to be tough coming back from knee surgery.”
Gonzales started to see the signs of a strong comeback early in the school year, when Wood did some of his own conditioning along with a few teammates. Paired with the team conditioning, he said Wood started to look strong on his knee.
“When school started, he and Tre Davis and Drew Unruh were running three days a week after school and they would run from the school out to Ahearn and back,” he said. “They kept doing that, and I was concerned that his knee wouldn’t hold up.
“Conditioning in September and October really strengthened that knee and he came in and he did not miss a step.”
Wood said everyone helped him prepare to get him back, and he credits his teammates, coaches and parents with keeping him focused.
The path to state gold is a tough one for Wood, with Wichita Heights’ undefeated Matt Reed likely to dominate the opposite side of the bracket, and a very familiar opponent in Lawrence’s Nick Pursel on his side.
Wood has suffered three of his six defeats to Pursel this season, and he admits he wants another shot at him.
Gonzales said Wood deserves a lot of credit for being able to come back in a weight class that features some of the top athletes in the state.
“For him to have 29 pins and wrestle with the high-caliber level of athletes he takes on, it’s truly a credit to him and his work ethic,” he said. “He is just a mean, tough kid, but truly a delight to be around.”
Wood plans on wrestling at the collegiate level and currently considers Colby Community College to be at the top of his list. Gonzales’ son Tyler Gonzales is an assistant coach at Colby.