Oklahoma senior Cody Brewer has heard past returning NCAA champions say that winning a national title didn’t create additional pressure the next season.
He isn’t buying it.
“Everybody who says there’s not (more pressure), it’s a lie,” said Brewer, an Oak Park graduate and four-time Missouri high school state champion. “There’s so much more pressure, because everybody expects more of you and expects you to wrestle your best.”
Brewer, a three-time All-American, speaks from experience as the reigning national champion in his weight class, 133 pounds.
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An injury last season landed Brewer the No. 13 seed during last spring’s NCAA Tournament, but he finished atop the podium after three days at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
This season, Brewer has found that the target on his back is considerably bigger, but he insists that he doesn’t mind.
“There’s always a target when you go out there as a returning national champ,” Brewer said. “You’re going to get everybody’s best every time you wrestle, but that’s good for me. It revs up the competition for me and makes me feel better out there.”
As much as he feels extra pressure from external sources — coaches, fans and foes — Brewer said it’s led to higher expectations for himself more than anything.
“Oh yeah, it’s created more internal pressure,” Brewer said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to wrestle as hard as I can and do my best every time I step on the mat.”
Brewer finished the regular season 17-2 and will be the favorite at 133 pounds when the Big 12 Championships take place March 5-6 at the Sprint Center.
He’s expected to easily qualify for the 2016 NCAA tourney March 17-19 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“More than anything, I’m just trying to enjoy it,” Brewer said. “I’ve got a month or so left. I have to make sure that in practice every day I’m going as hard as I can and enjoying every day. Everybody says it goes by really fast, and it does. It feels like just the other day I was a freshman coming in, and now I’m towards the end.”
Brewer is ranked No. 3 by FloWrestling, No. 4 by Intermat and WIN Magazine and No. 5 by Open Mat. He has earned bonus points in 13 of his 17 wins this season with five major decisions, six technical falls and two pins.
Those two losses — back-to-back against top-ranked Nahshon Garrett of Cornell 14-9 in the title bout Dec. 5 at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas and by fall against now-injured Kaid Brock of Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Dual Dec. 13 — don’t haunt Brewer.
Instead, Brewer learned from the experiences and applied them to get better as he zeroes in on a 133-pound repeat.
“The first one, I didn’t move enough like I should; I didn’t get to my offense as much as I should,” Brewer said. “Nerves got to me a little, but he was a good opponent.
“The second match, I went out there and tried to hit a home run and it didn’t really work out in my favor. Staying solid and getting back to those little things is what I’m working on.”
Brewer, who finished seventh at 133 as a redshirt freshman and eighth at 133 as a sophomore at the NCAA championships, beat Missouri’s Zach Synon 10-3 in a dual Jan. 30 at the Hearnes Center, one of eight consecutive victories as he preps for a return to his hometown next weekend.
“I feel like I’m hitting on all cylinders right now going into the end of the year,” Brewer said. “That’s what I wanted, and that’s how I feel right now. … I think I’ve done well harnessing that pressure and just trying to have fun. That’s what it’s all about the end.”
Well, that and the quest to finish his college career atop the podium in arguably the world’s most famous arena.
“That’s going to be cool,” Brewer said. “I’ve never been to the Garden before, so that’s going to be awesome. The history of that building is fantastic, but at the same time I have to treat it like another tournament and work my way to get there.”
Big 12 wrestling tournament
WHO: Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia wrestlers will compete against affiliate members Air Force, Northern Colorado, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Utah Valley and Wyoming.
WHEN: Saturday, March 5 and Sunday, March 6
WHERE: Sprint Center
TICKETS: Start at $40. Available at Sprint Center box office, SprintCenter.com, or by phone at 888-929-7849
SCHEDULE: Session 1, 11 a.m. March 5, preliminary and quarterfinal matches; Session 2, 5 p.m. March 5, semifinal and consolation quarterfinal matches; Session 3, 9 a.m. March 6, consolation semifinals, third- and fifth-place matches; Session 4, 1 p.m. March 6, championship matches.