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Move to Florida pays off for Brandon’s Wisconsin transplant Bruno

By Rob Sherrill

In season or out, Brandon (Fla.) High has become the program people love to hate, if you read the message boards. It’s easy to see why, especially if you happen to be someone jealous of the Eagles’ year-round success.
Historically, Brandon, located near Tampa,  was the high school program that owned “The Streak” — winning 459 straight matches over a 34-year period — before finally losing in 2008.
Within the state of Florida, Brandon has won 11 consecutive state championships in Florida and even a move up from 2A to big-school 3A in 2010 didn’t prevent coach Russ Cozart’s powerhouse from winning state titles by big margins. Last season, five Brandon wrestlers became multi-time state champions … more than any other school in the nation in 2011.
And the Eagles hold every record for Junior National place-winners … and champions … under the FargoDome in a single season. None of the other powerhouses — Blair Academy, St. Edward, you name them — win as often and as frequently in the off-season.
Two Eagles, Rossi Bruno (126 pounds) and Clark Glass (160), are going for their fifth state titles this season; junior teammate Kevin Norstrem (132) could join them in the Five-Timers Club a year from now. And even though Brandon lost Arizona State-signee Tyler Liberatore, who will try for his fourth state title at Tampa Wharton High, the Eagles showed at The Clash National Duals and other venues they have plenty of firepower.
Bruno’s father, also named Rossi, was a Junior National All-American in his high school days in the 1980s, when he wrestled at Chicago Mount Carmel High. His coach at Marquette University, Jim Schmitz — also with Illinois ties — started the younger Rossi Bruno in wrestling in the Ringers Wrestling Club, which Schmitz still coaches.
When the sunny skies and the beaches of south Florida beckoned, the Bruno family moved to Brandon when their son was in seventh grade … and Bruno has clearly left his mark on the program.
In addition to his state championships and an unbeaten record this season at press time, Bruno is the defending Junior National Greco-Roman champion. He’ll follow another former Brandon High standout, Eric Grajales, to the University of Michigan next year, having signed a national letter of intent in November.
Recently, WIN caught up with Bruno for this candid interview.

WIN: Your dad wrestled at Marquette and you started in Wisconsin with coach (Jim) Schmitz in the Ringers, so you’ve had a couple of great coaches.
Bruno: Jim Schmitz was a great coach. I learned a lot from him. And with coach Cozart, I couldn’t have learned from two better people.
WIN: What was coach Schmitz’s style like, and what did you learn from him?
Bruno: He had a lot of similarities to Coach Cozart. We wrestled kind of the Russian style and really emphasized the freestyle and Greco.
WIN: How did Brandon happen to be where you and your family wound up?
Bruno: It was after I wrestled (the) Schoolboy (Nationals). The nationals were in Wisconsin, and I wrestled (Brandon’s) Clark (Glass) in the finals of the Greco and the pool finals of the freestyle. We didn’t really know much about Florida wrestling, but after I wrestled Clark, I was thinking, “Wow, these Florida kids can wrestle.” And he wound up winning, and we found out that Florida wrestling was on the map.
WIN: When “The Streak” ended at Brandon, it may have been the best thing that ever happened to you guys, because you were free to schedule anybody you wanted. Wasn’t that better for you guys on the team?
Bruno: Definitely, being able to go to places like The Clash and not have to worry about that. We’re not afraid of anybody and we’re not concerned about protecting The Streak any more, so it really doesn’t matter.
WIN: On the other hand, it’s something they’ll never be able to take away from you. You’ll always have bragging rights about it.
Bruno: It’s funny. The team in North Carolina (Winston-Salem Parkland High), they’ve won over 200 in a row. We were talking in practice about how we should go up there and wrestle them. I’m not sure they’re wrestling quite the competition we are.
WIN: You signed with the University of Michigan in November. Did  (former Brandon wrestler Eric) Grajales had something to do with recruiting you?
Bruno: Yeah, we are best friends. The experience he’s had there has been great and I knew that it would be great for me, too.
WIN: He’s having a great season this year, so that had to give you some expectation of how much you’ll be able to improve once you get there.
Bruno: I think a lot of the Brandon guys wrestle the Michigan style. It fits Grajales really well, so I think there’s a little bit of that in me, too.
WIN: In addition to the opportunity to start working out with them regularly again, how much did the changes in the coaching staff make for you?
Bruno: It was big. I knew about Overtime (School of Wrestling), growing up in Wisconsin, and I worked out with some of those guys. I knew what a great coach (Sean) Bormet was. And on (coach Donny) Pritzlaff, the Wisconsin guys always talk about him. When he came to Michigan, his style just fits my style. They’ve got the type of guys that are gonna get me to the next level.
WIN: How in the world are you at 126 this year? You must be the world’s biggest 126-pounder.
Bruno: It’s actually really funny. I’ve put on a lot of muscle this year, but I run every day. I keep my weight down, but now, especially since we have the two pounds, it’s been really easy to keep my weight at 126.
WIN: You’ve always been kind of lean, but you’ve got a fairly big frame, and I keep thinking that you must be cutting a lot of weight, but maybe you’re not.
Bruno: I weigh about 135 right now. It’s 128 right now, so that’s seven pounds. In college, you see all those guys making the sacrifice, like (Iowa’s Matt) McDonough, he’s a big 125-pounder. It’s all mental, you know, cutting the weight, but you do what you have to do.
WIN: For so many years, Brandon has had more national champions and more All-Americans at Fargo than any other school. The people on the message boards hate it, but what’s the magic? How are you guys able to sustain that level year after year?
Bruno: I think it started with wrestlers like Rocky (Cozart) and Franklin (Gomez). They always performed at Fargo. And all summer long, that’s all we think about, getting on that podium and holding up that stop sign. It’s in our hearts, it’s in our preparation.     And coming from Florida, especially Brandon, we feel that if we didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be known as one of the great wrestling states, when you look at what guys like David Craig and Eric Grajales did.
WIN: You guys have gone to The Clash for a couple of years now, and made the First Division, which is quite an accomplishment, considering the quality of the field that’s there. Even though Brandon took a couple of losses there, what are the things you bring back to the room from that experience?
Bruno: Norstrem and some of the other guys are in the top 10 in the country. We know we’re probably not going to wrestle guys the caliber of what we saw at The Clash. So we just make sure we work hard in practice so that, you know, we’re getting the experience of big matches in practice.
WIN: I’m sure that when a Brandon kid loses at the state tournament, the arena cheers. Is that a good problem to have?
Bruno: Yeah, there’s probably some of that jealousy, that they’re not part of the tradition we have at Brandon. But we have so much pride in our program here that it really doesn’t matter what other people say.
If we’re doing our thing and we’re winning, that’s all that matters. We’re not a cocky team…we might celebrate after a big match, but that’s because we worked so hard, and when that pays off, it’s really rewarding for us.
WIN: Do you miss not having (Tyler) Liberatore in the room every day?
Bruno: We definitely miss him. Getting ready for The Clash, or getting ready for the state tournament, it’s be great to have him here. But we’ve got to move on, and you’re going to deal with adversity. We were great friends and we still are.
But he’s got to do what he’s got to do and we’ll keep moving forward. There’s no hard feelings and maybe one day we’ll be wrestling together again. n

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