For Neal, a perfect season, thus far Wrestling: Howard heavyweight is 24-0. His objective is a state title -- to go with All-American honors earned last summer.

February 07, 1997|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Howard's Brian Neal has come as close to a perfect season as possible so far.

Not only is the senior unbeaten at 24-0, but he's yielded only one point -- and that was because his coach ordered him to allow an opponent to escape.

"He wanted me to stretch out my bout to give a teammate more time to rest, because it was the first match in a tri-meet," Neal said. "I did it for the team."

Only three of Neal's wins have been forfeits, and in the other 21 matches, he has 20 pins -- all before the third period.

And the only reason he doesn't have a perfect 21 pins is because one of his coaches wanted him to see if he could go a full six minutes, so he concentrated on scoring points instead of pinning.

"He told me I won't be able to pin everyone at states and that this would be good practice for me," Neal said. Neal won that match, against Centennial's Aaron Perkins, 10-0, whom he had pinned in an earlier match.

Neal hopes to follow in the footsteps of another outstanding Howard heavyweight, Angelo Bavetta, who was an undefeated state champion in 1982.

Because Neal won All-American honors last summer in Greco-Roman wrestling, Neal thinks that winning states is almost a must for him.

"It would be awkward to be an All-American and not be a state champion," he said. "I have to do it."

He is only third-ranked in the heavyweight division by the Maryland State Wrestling Association, but the top two are in Class 3A-4A, and Neal will wrestle Class 1A-2A. So he likely will be favored at states unless something untimely happens beforehand.

Neal, the defending county and regional heavyweight champ, finished fifth at states last season when he posted a 30-3 record. The 6-foot tall, 260-pounder is 82-13 for his career. He's also a two-time All County football player.

After wrestling during the off-season with the Headhunters and taking part in "open gym" competition at McDonogh, Neal thinks he has progressed significantly from last season.

"I didn't feel I could take people down last season, but now I'm comfortable on my feet and can take them down," Neal said.

He has won the Edgewood, Hammond and Arundel tournaments, pinning Lackey's Josue Leon at Hammond, and Ben Brand of Rising Sun at Edgewood.

"Brand was the only one to give him any trouble," said Howard coach Roger Colon. "Brian is great on his feet -- almost impossible to take down. And once he's on top, he puts a power half on to turn you, and then pins you with a half nelson. I can't see him losing states. He's the best finisher I've seen in a long time."

But Neal is cautious and is not overlooking anyone.

"There have only been two state champs at Howard," he said.

Neal thinks that winning All-American recognition by finishing sixth at Greco-Roman nationals was his most exciting wrestling moment, and he hopes to return to nationals this summer.

"I want to make the finals this year," he said. He feels honored that only one other Howard County wrestler, Quinton Gough, has been an All-American.

Following high school, Neal is thinking about spending a year at the Olympic training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"I'm going to check out the camp during spring break to see if I like it," he said.

He also plans to visit North Carolina-Greensboro March 14-15. That's his No. 1 college choice.

The Neal name isn't likely to fade for long from the county scene after Brian graduates, however. His 10-year-old brother, Justin, wrestles for the Long Reach Pythons.

Pub Date: 2/07/97

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