Virginia Tech coach Tom Brands has accomplished a lot in his wrestling career. He has won three NCAA titles, a world championship and an Olympic gold medal. But for the next three days, the first-year head coach has only one goal: seeing Mike Faust get angry.
"I'd love to see Mike really mad," Brands said this week as he spoke of his heavyweight wrestler's chances at the NCAA Division I national championships that start today in St. Louis.
"Mike can beat anybody. He's very dedicated, highly committed; I love his chances. But, if there's anything he needs, he needs to be a little meaner."
Angry or not, Faust, a former three-time state champion at Gilman and The Sun's 1999-2000 male Athlete of the Year, is having one of the best seasons of any Maryland wrestler in the college ranks. At 30-5, with an Atlantic Coast Conference title under his belt, the junior has qualified for the NCAA tournament and is ranked 19th in the country by Amateur Wrestling News.
Brand's intensity, which crackles off the coach's voice as he talks, is helping his training, Faust said. "I'm a pretty laid-back guy," the former two-time high school National Prep champ said. "But Brands is so intense, and in-your-face. It's just what I need."
Even under the watchful eye of Brands, the road to the NCAA finals won't be easy for Faust. His first-round match is against the No. 4-ranked wrestler in the country, Pat DeGain of Indiana, but Faust said he is ready for the challenge.
"I'm excited to wrestle against anybody," Faust said, adding that he wanted a shot at the nation's top-ranked wrestler, Steve Mocco of Iowa.
Faust transferred to Virginia Tech this school year, after taking last year off school to train for a shot at the 2004 summer Olympic team. He qualified for the final Olympic trials, but didn't make the squad. Faust had wrestled for the University of Pennsylvania but decided to leave the team for the opportunity to train with Brands, who is one of the University of Iowa's all-time greats.
Brands is a main proponent of "Iowa Style" wrestling, a near-military approach to grappling, complete with some of the most arduous workouts and intense attitudes found in the sport.
Brands' staff, and Faust's workout partners at Virginia Tech, include Wes Hand, an NCAA Division I finalist at heavyweight for Iowa; Lee Fullhart, an NCAA D-I champion at 197 pounds for Iowa who owns two wins over wrestling legend Cael Sanderson; and Nik Fekete, another All-America upperweight wrestler.
"He's our guy," Brands said of Faust. "He's the guy this coaching staff brought in specifically to wrestle for us. We didn't have to teach him our style or hard work. He already had the work ethic. Now, he needs to win some close matches. He needs to open up and get the job done."
Back at Gilman, where Faust posted a 142-6 record - and Faust's cousin, John, now wrestles at 103 pounds - wrestling supporters are following his success closely.
"We're all watching Mike and pulling for him," said Gilman coach Henry Franklin. "There are certainly wrestlers, alumni and teachers who are following his season."
With supporters back home cheering him on, Faust isn't going into the tournament with hopes of placing second.
"I'm definitely going there to win it," Faust said. "That's my goal."
Locals in NCAAs
Local wrestlers who have qualified for this week's NCAA Division I tournament.
133: Sam Gray, Navy, third, Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association.
141: Charlie Pinto, Maryland, first, Atlantic Coast Conference; Nate Gulosh, Navy, second, EIWA.
149: John Cox, Navy, fourth, EIWA.
165: Craig Dziewiatkowski, Navy, third, EIWA.
174: Daniel Waters (Arundel), American, fourth, EIWA.
197: Thayer Paxton, Navy, third, EIWA.
285: Mike Faust (Gilman), Virginia Tech, first, ACC; Tanner Garrett, Navy, second, EIWA; Bode Ogunwole (Severna Park), Harvard, fifth, EIWA.