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Perfection on the mats

Brandon junior David Craig's all-around dominance makes him tops in the county.

By TERRY JONES, Times Correspondent
Published March 9, 2005

BRANDON - The top wrestler in Hillsborough County is selected from the state champions each season. Only five area wrestlers won individual titles this year and all were on Brandon's state championship team.

Of the five individual state champions, only two were undefeated for the season and of those one was totally dominant every time he stepped on the mat.

Not only was David Craig (48-0) ranked No. 1 in Florida at 171 pounds, but he also was ranked best in his weight nationally.

In the state tournament Feb. 24-26, Craig pinned his way to a third straight title. Though a total of 24 minutes is allowed for the four wins a state champion needs to take the title (without a loss), Craig needed only three minutes, 58 seconds total.

Since he started wrestling at the age of 5, the junior upper weight wrestler has won more than 24 national championships in USA Wrestling and AAU competition in addition to his high school and club state titles.

Even on a team with some of the best wrestlers in the county, state and country, Craig stands out. On the mat he dominates his opponents, making it all appear simple.

Craig doesn't talk much about his prowess on the mats. Instead, he talks about the help he gets from teammates and coaches. He talks about the source of his personal confidence in his sport, academics and life in general.

"I started wrestling with the Brandon Wrestling Club at about 5 and mostly just enjoyed the fun and friendships I had there and still have," he said. "My personal confidence comes from a strong inner Christian faith and my skills were acquired through help of coach Russ Cozart and his assistant coaches.

"I also learned a lot from teammates, including Rocky Cozart, Cesar Grajales, Sean and Ryan Joyce and so many others in the club and on the team."

Craig is an honor student and carries a 3.8 grade point average. His academic skills added to his dominant presence on the mats have made him attractive to many colleges. Since he is still a junior, college coaches can only mail him materials. They will not be able to talk to him until next year.

Though he is big and strong, Craig doesn't give the appearance of using brute strength in winning his matches. He tends to take an opponent down quickly, then toy with him.

"I really don't try to outmuscle my opponents," he said. "Actually, I move him around looking for what he may be trying to do, and then I counter that by doing what I want to do. Rocky and Cesar were a big help in teaching how to control. We have a great practice room and Coach Cozart says matches are won in the practice room."

Though Craig was selected as the county's top wrestler, his selection was not easy thanks to the outstanding performances of Gomez, Cozart and Grajales.

Gomez also went undefeated and won the Beast of the East Tournament in December. He may be the quickest wrestler in the state and is being recruited by several top Division I colleges.

Grajales lost only one match this season - in the Beast of the East semifinals. He finished third in that tournament by wrestling back in a tough field. He also won his fourth state tournament while helping Brandon win four of its five straight state team championships. He signed to compete for the University of Pennsylvania next season.

Cozart also lost only one match and it too was in the Beast of the East semifinals. And he came back to place third in that tournament. He helped the Eagles win four of their past five state championships, with three individual state titles. He placed second as a freshman. He signed to wrestle for Michigan State University next season.

[Last modified March 9, 2005, 00:55:19]


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