If there was a phrase to describe Erie-Prophetstown wrestling standout Brandon McCullough's season, it would be "better late than never.''|
Prior to the 2012-13 prep campaign, the Panthers' senior 106-pounder had yet to taste victory in three years' worth of varsity tournament appearances, including the postseason.
However, after seeing glimpses of his potential by advancing to last February's Class 1A Individual state tournament in Champaign with a third-place sectional finish, McCullough has made up for lost time this winter with four tournament titles, a haul that includes his first regional crown.
This week's Area Pacesetter for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus achieved the latter by holding off Sherrard standout Hunter Spengler 10-6 in the 106-pound championship bout at last Saturday's 1A Sherrard Regional. It was a win that enabled him to match last year's career-best victory total of 32.
"I was just waiting for my senior year to do all right,'' quipped McCullough, whose 32-2 record includes a team-best 21 pins and has him ranked third in the latest Illinois Best Weekly poll heading into this weekend's Oregon Sectional. "Going to state last year gave me confidence. I thought if I made it then, why not my senior year?''
Such aspirations are a far cry from the way McCullough felt when he first walked into the Panthers' wrestling room as a Erie High School freshman. Brandon, the son of veteran E-P head coach Tod McCullough, wasn't even the only family member competing for a varsity spot at what was still the 103-pound position. His sister Megan, a senior, also had her eyes on the same position.
"I know my freshman year, it made some stuff around the dinner table a little awkward,'' he said. "But just being able to hang in the room with them was a confidence-booster for me. My freshman and sophomore years, I was just this little guy who couldn't hardly get over 100 pounds.
"I was a little scared coming in, but having family in the room, it was nice knowing someone was there to talk to if I needed it. If I was having any problems, I could talk to Megan or go to my dad. I took my bruises and bumps those first couple of years, but it never discouraged me.''
Earlier this season, McCullough finally achieved that long-awaited tournament breakthrough when he captured the 106-pound crown at -- fittingly enough -- E-P's own Holiday Invitational in Erie, an accomplishment that held great meaning for him. He then went on to earn gold medals at the Argenta-Oreana meet and Orion's rugged Bob Mitton Invitational.
Also, his back-to-back 32-win seasons have helped to make McCullough the latest entry in the Erie-Prophetstown 100-win club, which has made his father and coach proud.
"It all stems from last year,'' said Tod McCullough. "It was a big accomplishment for Brandon to make it to state, and it gave him an insight. He's really focused now, probably wrestling the best he ever has. He's got the right mindset, going out and attacking. He knows it's his senior year, and that he has to go after it and leave it all out there.
"Brandon's goal is to make it to state, and finish with a win, which means you'd be wrestling for either first, third or fifth place. He does have aspirations for a state title, and I know as both a coach and a parent, I'd love to see him on the medal stand at Assembly Hall.''
Taking inspiration from a former Panther he describes as his role model -- current Wis.-Platteville grappler Dylan DeShane, a fourth-place state finisher for E-P at 182 pounds last season -- Brandon hopes to become the first Erie student to win an individual wrestling gold since Scott Weber took the Class A 167-pound title in 1974.
But first, there's the matter of navigating this weekend's field at Oregon's Blackhawk Center before making any podium reservations in Champaign.
"I've always looked up to Dylan, seeing the success he's had, and it's been a goal of mine since the beginning of the year to at least duplicate (his state finish), if not one-up him,'' McCullough said. "But I know I'll have a target (at sectionals) as a returning state qualifier, and I can't overlook anyone. I just have to wrestle to my ability, and hope all my hard work pays off in the end.''
AREA PACESETTER BRANDON MCCULLOUGH
Favorite food: "I'd say steak, but after wrestling (season), anything sounds good.''
Favorite movie: "Braveheart"
Favorite TV show: "Family Guy"
Favorite school subject: History
Favorite wrestling venue: "I've always enjoyed wrestling right here in Erie. It's where I got my first tournament win."
Pre-bout ritual: "Have a Snickers after each weigh-in. It's a tradition -- I've done it since my freshman year."
Parents: Tod and Laura McCullough, Erie.
IN THE RUNNING:
Tristen Finch and Zach Nelson, Mercer County: Both previous Area Pacers, the duo's wins at 138 and 152 pounds, respectively, led the way for the Golden Eagles at the 1A Sherrard Regional.
Cassie Reiley, Prophetstown: Tallied 35 points as part of a strong all-around week in wins over Fulton and Erie that gave the Lady Prophets a share of the Three Rivers Conference title.
Carly Adams, Sherrard: Collected 28 points, 10 rebounds and five steals in two wins as the Tigers locked up the West Central North crown.
Jacob and Joe DeVolder, Orion: The Chargers' wrestling brothers won the 126- and 145-pound titles, respectively, at the 1A Sherrard Regional.
Terry White, Riverdale: Won his first regional title by taking the 182-pound gold medal at Sherrard.
Seth Montgomery, Erie-Prophetstown: The third seed upset No. 1 Devin Morford of Mercer County in the 160-pound finals at the 1A Sherrard wrestling regional.
Mark Breedlove, Kewanee: Ran his record to 36-2 by winning the 132-pound title at the 1A Eureka Regional.
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