Brett Campbell sweated through another workout Monday, Nov. 6, at Bodies Health & Fitness with his fellow Summit Christian Academy wrestlers.
Practices began just a week ago, so most of them are still getting reacquainted with the sport after a long absence.
That’s not the case for Campbell, a senior, who’s been wrestling nonstop since winning a state championship last February.
Wrestling year-round for the first time, he’s now starting to see the benefits.
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“I just feel like I can pick up where I left off instead of taking a break and losing some of my wrestling knowledge,” Campbell said. “I feel like I’m better than where I left off from last year.”
Campbell left off with a 56-0 record and the Class 1 182-pound championship at the state wrestling tournament. A three-time state qualifier, he became the first state champion in SCA’s four-year wrestling history.
While national competition was nothing new for Campbell, he really wanted to see how he stacked up against the nation’s best this summer.
That meant giving up football — he had played running back and linebacker on the Eagles’ varsity team — and devoting himself full-time to the Champions Wrestling Club of Blue Springs.
“He’s working super-hard; he wrestled all summer long,” SCA wrestling co-coach Scott Cutbirth said. “He’s pretty much been wrestling nonstop since last season.”
The extra work has helped Campbell rise among the nation’s elite.
At the U.S. Marine Corps Junior Nationals last July in Fargo, N.D., Campbell made the top 12 in both the Freestyle and Greco-Roman divisions and came within one match victory of All-American status.
Last month, Campbell earned All-American honors at the USA Wrestling Preseason National Tournament in Cedar Falls, Iowa, placing fourth at 195 pounds with five wins in seven matches.
The top eight in each weight class are All-Americans and he made it with a dominant showing. Both losses were one-point decisions.
Perhaps most impressive, Campbell did it without getting strep throat or some other virus, a problem which usually plagues him at big-time events.
“I felt pretty good wrestling,” he said. “Usually, I get sick at those big tournaments and I finally wasn’t sick, so that was a surprise. Those close matches, I wish I would have come out a little more aggressive but, besides that, overall I thought I wrestled pretty good.”
SCA assistant wrestling coach Todd Campbell believes the year-round focus and national-tournament success have improved his son’s skills on the mat.
But he said the biggest improvement he’s seen in the younger Campbell, who has wrestled since he was 5 years old, is in his mental state.
“I think it gave him the confidence that he could wrestle with the top guys,” Todd said. “That really kind of took him to a new level. I think he’s coming in with a lot more confidence and desire than he had even last year.”
As eager as Brett, who will wrestle at 195 this season, is for another shot at a state title, he also has other motivations. He plans to wrestle in college next year and knows he needs to keep sharpening his skills for the next level.
“I have to keep working to get better,” said Brett, who is undecided about his college choice. “Also I just want to do the best for my team and get as much points as I can for my team as a whole.”
Cutbirth has seen Brett become more of a team leader already, especially with his efforts to get more wrestlers in the room.
SCA has a record 17 athletes on the team this year, including two other returning state qualifiers — younger brother Braeden Campbell and Trenton Holloway.
“We’re going to be able to fill more of a lineup than we’ve ever been able to fill here, and a big portion of that is due to Brett going out and talking to classmates,” Cutbirth said. “And in the room, he’s been a leader I haven’t had to ask him to be. He’s done it himself.”
Just as he put in the time himself to get ready for his senior season.
“I feel like I’m wrestling the best I ever have and I’m still improving,” Campbell said. “I’m excited for what this year has.”