Neal sets sights on taking down a title at states Big man, big goal: Howard's heavyweight wrestler tips in at 269 pounds, but there are some who dare to call him 'Twinkie.'

February 04, 1996|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Brian "Twinkie" Neal is a lot of wrestler.

The 5-foot-11 Howard junior weighed in at 269 pounds for Thursday's Westminster match. That's six pounds below the heavyweight limit of 275 pounds.

But Neal not only is big. He's good. He pinned his Westminster opponent in 58 seconds, improving his record to 18-1 with 15 pins.

L Neal is so good, in fact, he's hoping to win a state title.

"He's capable of winning a state title if he works at it," Howard coach Joe Thomas said. "He's the best heavyweight I've coached."

As a sophomore, Neal made it as far as the state consolation semifinals. His only losses at states were to the state champion and the third-place finisher.

"Doing so well at states was my biggest thrill in wrestling so far," Neal said. "A Howard High wrestler hasn't won a state title since 1982, when Angelo Bavetta won two straight. He was a heavyweight, too. My goal is to equal his record."

He figures his toughest competition will come from Bowie's sixth-ranked Aaron Chandler and Sherwood's No. 3 Graham Manley.

As far as the county championship goes, Neal sees Centennial's Aaron Perkins, whom he's already beaten two times, as his top competition. Neal was county runner-up last season.

Although Neal now enjoys his wrestling success and the attention it has brought him, wrestling wasn't always something he wanted to do.

"I quit twice last season, and our assistant coach then, Dan Ricker, made me continue," Neal said. "I wouldn't be wrestling now if it wasn't for him. I'm glad he talked me into it."

Ricker, who was also the assistant football coach, gave Neal the nickname "Twinkie."

"He nicknamed another lineman Hostess," said Neal, who was a second-team All-County lineman.

Neal's only loss this season was to Jamie Blankenship of Eastern Tech by a pin.

"Blankenship was the only guy who's really been able to ride me," Neal said. "He was a lot smaller and quicker than me."

Neal later pinned Blankenship in the finals of the Edgewood Tournament to avenge the loss.

"The second time, Brian didn't let Blankenship use his quickness, but stayed inside and tied him up. He threw legs and that led to a pinning combination," Thomas said. "He's one of the few heavy weights who can throw legs. In the loss to Blankenship, Brian didn't wrestle his style and got pinned with 30 seconds left."

Thomas says Neal wrestles best on his feet because he won't get headlocked or thrown. He has only been taken down twice.

But Neal says he also likes wrestling on the ground.

"I like to throw legs, because most heavyweights can't counter that move," he said. "And I've gotten an escape on just about everyone I've wrestled."

Against opponents near his size he uses skills and quickness to beat them. Against smaller opponents he uses his weight to break them down.

One highlight this season was Howard's 31-27 victory over perennial county power Oakland Mills. Neal's match was decisive.

Neal was in a similar situation to win last season's match with Oakland Mills, and was leading 12-4 with 15 seconds left, but got pinned.

"It was nice to be able to turn things around," Neal said. Howard overcame a 24-3 Oakland Mills lead this season.

Another of Neal's biggest wrestling thrills came last summer, when he made the nationals in freestyle and Greco-Roman and went to Fargo, N.D.

Other thrills included beating defending state 1A-2A state champ Jason Swisher of Beall, 3-2, in the finals of a freestyle tournament at McDonogh; finishing second in the state freestyle competition; and pinning Mount St. Joe's two-time Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association champ Ken Hunter, now on scholarship at Coppin State, in Neal's first freestyle tournament.

Neal, now ranked fourth in the state, said he'd like to become a high school All-American.

And in college he plans to wrestle and play football, but if he has to choose between them, then he'll wrestle.

OC "That's something I couldn't have said last season," Neal said.

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