Neal: A real heavyweight Big and good: Howard junior heavyweight Brian Neal, who is 18-1 with 15 pins, has his sights set on a state championship.

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

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

Neal's so good he's hoping to win a state championship.

"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 third-ranked Graham Manley.

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."

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 heavyweights 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's 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.

"I used a fireman's carry on Atholton's [Paul] McElheny, and he's 6-5, 265," Neal said.

Against smaller opponents he uses his weight to break them down.

One 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, 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 he has to choose between them, then he'll wrestle.

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

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