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Brandon wrestling winning streak longest of them all

Brandon_Wrestling 

In the National Federation of State High School Associations’ National High School Sports Record Book, there are records for consecutive victories for all but two of the 16 sports represented in there.

Many are impressive and some are even amazing.

However, none come close to matching the astounding 459 consecutive dual meets won by the Brandon (Florida) High School wrestling program from 1974 to 2008. It’s the longest winning streak for any high school sport.

The second-longest streak was compiled by the Englewood (Colorado) Cherry Creek High School boys tennis program, which reeled off 312 consecutive dual-meet wins from 1972 to 1999. As impressive as that is, it’s still a mind-boggling 147 wins behind Brandon’s streak.

“It [the streak] just didn’t happen one night or one meet,” Brandon High School head wrestling coach Russ Cozart said. “It was about longevity. The record was awesome ‑ it really motivated me to be the best I could be.

“As the streak grew, there was a lot of pressure for us to succeed. The kids felt a lot of it. We used that pressure to motivate ourselves. I told the boys that we needed to work, but that work is good and that to dedicate yourself to a goal is good.

“Every year, we have two goals: to go undefeated and to win the state title. With goals like that, the bar is set pretty high.”

The Eagles’ incredible winning streak began on January 29, 1974, when they defeated Robinson (Florida) High School, 32-17. At the time, the squad was under the tutelage of then-head coach Jim Graves.

Some 34 years later ‑ 12,396 days to be exact ‑ that amazing streak finally came to an end on January 5, 2008 when Brandon fell to Homestead (Florida) South Dade High School, 32-28, in the finals of the prophetic and aptly named “Jim Graves ‘Beat the Streak’ Tournament.” As he had done at every meet since 1980, Cozart was matside tirelessly exhorting his Eagles to give their best effort.

Brandon, which had just come off a 37-22 come-from-behind victory over Manatee (Florida) High School in the semifinals, fell behind South Dade in the early going and pulled to within six points with two matches to go, but couldn’t get over the hump. Ranked No. 3 in the state, South Dade was indeed a formidable foe.

“It’s kind of a rivalry between South Dade and us,” Cozart explained. “In that loss, we lost by the closest margin we could entering the final match. The next year, we went down to their place in Miami and won, 53-13. I know the head coach down there. It was his worst loss during his tenure there.

“The kids took the loss harder than I did. I knew that one day we would lose. Each team along the way didn’t want to be the team that got beat.

“The next day, I had to talk with the kids. I mentioned that when you get silver - get second - it’s OK, but you don’t want to get used to finishing second. Those are the things that drive us. I told them that I knew they were hurting at that moment, but I also assured them that this was going to make them stronger.”

The Brandon program has long been the model of both consistency and excellence. Prior to the tournament, no team had come within 20 points since 2002, and no team had come within 10 points since 1989. During the course of the streak, 77 Brandon wrestlers were crowned individual state champions, and the program won 22 state titles, including 11 consecutive.

Trying to put the 34 years of the streak into historical perspective and taking note of the myriad of changes that had occurred in the world during that time nearly defies belief.

When the streak started, President Richard Nixon was seven months away from resigning in disgrace. The popular television program “Happy Days” and The Fonz had just begun their 11-year run on ABC. And running back Larry Csonka earned game Most Valuable Player honors as he helped lead the Miami Dolphins to a 24-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl VIII.

Fast-forward to 2008 and George W. Bush was winding down his second term as the nation’s 43rd president. The Fonz’ leather jacket was on exhibit in the Smithsonian Institute. And the wild-card New York Giants defeated the previously unbeaten and heavily favored New England Patriots, 17-14, in Super Bowl XLII.

And, it goes without saying that none of the wrestlers on Brandon’s 2008 squad were even born yet in 1974.

The great Brandon tradition started by Graves was carried on by Cozart, who hoped to emulate his predecessor’s success.

“When I first got the job, Jim had gone undefeated for seven seasons and won a state title,” Cozart said. “So, my goal became to go undefeated for seven seasons and to win a state title ‑ I just wanted to equal what he did. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would go on that long.

“There was even an ESPN documentary about it called “The Streak,” produced by (actor) Mark Consuelos. They followed our team for an entire season, and ironically, that was the year we lost. The streak took on a life of its own. It became a great source of inspiration.”

Interestingly, two of Cozart’s former wrestlers from the streak are currently his assistant coaches. Bob Hendrickson, who was on the 1985 state championship team, has been with him since 1989. Mike Ferrario, who was on championship squads in 1997 and 1998, also assists him.

In addition to his exemplary coaching acumen, Cozart is also a highly accomplished wrestler at several levels of competition. After wrestling in the 115-pound weight class at Upland (California) High School, he moved on to the University of Alabama, where he started his collegiate career at 118 pounds and ended it at 142. For 10 years (ages 42 to 51), he competed in the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) Veteran World Championships, where he won seven world titles. Even today at 58, Cozart still likes to get out on the mat with his wrestlers.

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