Some folks lecture about mind over matter. In the case of Ashland University senior wrestler Brandon Davis (Greensboro, N.C./Page), the subject is mind on mat.
A year ago, Davis was redshirted. The idea was for Davis to spend a season away from competition and take a long, hard look at the way he approached his craft. Understand, Davis wasn't struggling, in 2009-10, he qualified for the NCAA Division II national championships. He ended the year with a 19-12 (team leader in wins) record. A two-time state champion in high school, Davis was a 125-pounder with a solid resume. But the wrestler and his coach, Tim Dernlan, believed he could be more productive if he could eliminate a lot of gray area from his gray matter.
Taking a redshirt year to sort out the mental game wasn't Dernlan playing mind games. It was the AU head coach giving Davis a year to put everything in order for what he hoped could be a senior year to remember.
"We did a lot of good work in the year he took off," reported Dernlan. "He's a lot more confident now. He has a couple of new takedowns. He used a redshirt year like it should be used and got better. It's hard to find a guy who will use a redshirt year properly. We don't redshirt a lot of guys. We see a redshirt year as a reward for a lot of things. We don't take that lightly, we put a lot of trust in a guy that he'll use it and not just sit and use it as a break from training."
Many of the mental adjustments Davis made had to do with confidence. There were times in the past, when if Davis got in certain situations, he wasn't as strong mentally as he needed to be. There were too many times when Davis let the action come to him rather than making moves to take control of the match.
"Coach Dernlan told me I was a great wrestler capable of great things," explained Davis. "He felt my confidence wasn't where it needed to be for me to be more successful.
"I think I'm more confident and I work to my strengths," continued Davis. "You work through every situation until you get out. It's a lot about creating your own opportunities. For me, I got a lot about life out of it. It you don't pursue life, you won't get anything out of it. You have to create opportunities and pursue them vigorously. That's what this year is all about. It's more gratifying. If you pursue it with everything you have you can't have any regrets. I want to be better in everything, a better wrestler, better conditioned, better everything."
So far, Davis has reached that goal. He is 19-7 and tied for the team lead in victories. As of last week, he was ranked fourth in the country at 125 pounds for a team that is ranked 18th in the country. Ashland is 7-1 in dual meet competition. Over the last two weekends, the Eagles have gone 3-0 at AU's Wendy's Mid-Atlantic Duals and 3-0 at the Wisconsin-Parkside Duals. During that run, the Eagles defeated four Top 20 teams.
Davis has a team-high 60 takedowns this season, which is another indication of his zest for forcing the action. He's been able to do what Dernlan, now in his fourth season at AU, has preached since he arrived at Ashland – wrestle hard for an entire match.
"He gets the most out of his talent," said the AU head coach. "He's a very consistent performer. That's hard to find. You know you'll get a certain effort and performance every time with Brandon. That's especially important at that first weight. He's loves the sport. It's amazing just the mental shifts he's made that have taken him to another level. Everything's connected. The other day he said to me, 'Coach, I'm starting to realize why you put in that drill.' I said, 'You're ready to be a coach.' He's really matured."
"I can connect it to the match situation," explained Davis. "Yesterday we did a circuit lift. Earlier this year I had a match, my cardio was fine, but my muscles were tired. I just couldn't move. I told coach, 'This is exactly what this is about, fatiguing the muscle so I don't get tired like that again. Once I made the connection I could push even harder. There are a lot of those small epiphanies. But even if you don't know, you have to trust the coach."
That maturation has helped Davis withstand the rigors of a college wrestling season. It's easy to get caught up in looking too far ahead. In the next month, the Eagles have dual matches with four nationally ranked teams. On Feb. 24-25, the Eagles will compete at the Super Regional 2 Championships at Central Oklahoma. From now through the end of next month, Davis will be matched against foes he's seen numerous times. That adds to the grind of the season's stretch run.
"Especially after the Mid-Atlantic Duals I'm even more excited," said Davis in previewing the coming weeks. "I look forward to the challenge. I want to prove I'm better than other people. But, for example, the kid I wrestled from King (College), that was the third time I'd wrestled him. It became a low scoring match. I'm trying to work through that, make those low-scoring matches into blowouts. That's smart, but I wouldn't wrestle that way. I want to wrestle do dominate."
"We've talked about that," said Dernlan of the concern Davis has for wrestling the same opponent two and three times. "That's going to happen but it's like I told him, he's winning, what do you think the other kid feels like, losing that many times?"
A good run in the coming weeks could send Davis to nationals for a second time. To get there, Davis needs to finish in the top four at the regional tournament. He believes that if he gets back to nationals, he'll be better prepared than he was two years ago when he went 0-2.
"Being in that environment once helps," Davis said. "It's always a little nerve wracking. You've got to believe in the system. The coaches, the way they plan things out is the right way. I don't want to think there's a better way to do it. I just believe in the system, that's a big part of everything."
Davis has so much belief in the system that it's become the foundation for his life.
"For me, it's not just about things in wrestling," said Davis. "It's balance. I work 10 hours a week. I have a girlfriend, class, bills to pay for my apartment. If I let one thing slip it affects the whole system. Then it's chaos and the whole system doesn't work. You can have your off day, but you've got to find your way back to your balance."