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Meet Brandon's 'Death Row'

Matt Juncal, Rashard Goff and Keith Simmons work to put the finishing moves on another state title for the Eagles.


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 9, 2003

BRANDON -- Baseball has a closer to finish out a win and soccer has a stopper to keep opponents from scoring. Brandon wrestling has "Death Row" to finish its matches.

This season, the Eagles have a starting lineup loaded from top to bottom. However, many opposing coaches have assumed Brandon is weak in the upperweights.

What they encounter instead are three wrestlers determined to make contributions to the Eagles' success.

Death Row starts at 189 pounds with two-time state champion Matt Juncal, followed by Rashard Goff at 215 and Keith Simmons at 275.

Each is a state contender with the power to hammer home Brandon's 14th state title in Lakeland Feb.27-March 1.

In a recent match against Countryside, the Cougars were challenging Brandon's national record streak for consecutive dual match wins, trailing 15-12 with six bouts remaining. Death Row recorded three straight pins to provide Brandon with 18 points and put Countryside away.

"Any time we are in a match, our goal is 6-6-6, (the points earned for) three pins, and we knew three pins would save the streak that night," Juncal said. "Brandon's tradition is important to us and we work hard to do our part on a totally great team."

Now the big guys are working hard to help the Eagles prepare for the state run, starting with the Class 2A, District 7 tournament Feb.15 at King.

"The term Death Row was started by Brian Howsare, our 189-pounder last year," Goff said. "Keith and I were sophomores and Brian a senior and none of us were all that good. But when Matt moved up to 189 this year with two state championships, he challenged us to be our best."

This season, Goff is undefeated at 24-0, Juncal is 28-0 and Simmons is 24-4.

"Everybody knows about our small wrestlers, but they think the Brandon big guys are weak," Goff said. "Juncal has two state championships, but Keith and I have never had any personal recognition. We basically want to show people Brandon's upperweights are no pushovers. We want to dominate opponents. We are Death Row."

Goff and Simmons started wrestling as freshmen after football season. After working out with the team for a while, wrestling became a major part of their lives.

Juncal started working with the Brandon Wrestling Club in elementary school.

"We aren't interested in being something outside the team when people call us Death Row," Simmons said. "Our objective was and is to help the whole team. We are not a separate part of the team, we are just three big guys and friends determined to do our part for the whole team."

As a two-time state champion, Juncal didn't need any additional personal recognition, but he welcomed the opportunity to be a part of Death Row.

"When I first heard the term Death Row, I thought it was cool," Juncal said. "We really work to the limit every day in practice, pushing each other hard. Keith and Rashard take it serious and believe in themselves. They have no fear of losing, so they attack. They can both be state champs this year."

Brandon coach Russ Cozart normally doesn't allow groups on his teams to take on nicknames, stressing a team concept throughout every season. But this group might deserve the title.

"All three of our big guys are good, hard-working kids and a pleasure to coach," Cozart said. "They follow instructions, and when they make mistakes, they correct them. They labeled themselves and they are living up to the label. Good upperweights for Brandon usually spells state championship.

"They are a good group of kids."

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