Howland duo gearing up for state run

Tribune Chronicle file / Joe Simon Howland’s Brandon Matlock, left, shown here wrestling Tyler Stein of Canfield earlier this season, will try to qualify for the state tournament this weekend.

Quiet and mild mannered, it only made sense that Howland wrestling captains Brandon Matlock and Chris Julian found a nice, snug spot in the corner of the practice room to drill for this season.

They don’t like to be disturbed. They don’t care for trash talk or any hooting and hollering. The two upperweight wrestlers simply wanted to work hard and go about their day.

That wasn’t enough for Tigers coach Matt Zakrajsek.

“We had a little talk, about midseason,” Zakrajsek said, “and I said, ‘You two need to be right in the center, so everyone can see what you’re doing. You are the two (main) guys in this room. We need you front and center.’ We made that adjustment, and it’s been pretty good since then.”

The two captains will be front and center once again today and Saturday at the Division II Alliance District tournament, where the top four placers advance to the state tournament in Columbus.

Matlock is one of the state’s top-ranked 220-pound wrestlers, while Julian holds the same distinction at the 285-pound weight class. Teammates Isaiah Lyles (126 pounds) and Nick Mijavec (182) will join them at Alliance High School, where roughly 220 wrestlers enter with the same vision: Make it to Columbus.

“I want to definitely make it down to state because I want to get on the podium (at the state tournament),” said Julian, referring to the large podium wrestlers who place in the top eight stand on to receive their medals at the conclusion of the state tournament. “Last year I got hurt at districts, during the quarterfinal match, and it kind of ruined my season because I couldn’t wrestle the next day. I just want to give it all I got.”

That’s the norm for most wrestlers, but especially for Julian.

While he wrestles in the 285-pound weight class, Julian only weighs about 220 pounds. Surprisingly, the weight difference hasn’t hindered the powerful 6-foot-3 senior, who owns a 34-5 record.

Also a standout football player who has received several offers to play collegiately, Julian uses his strength, athleticism and lanky build to his advantage.

“He put a lot of time in the weight room the last few years,” Zakrajsek said. “He’s got long arms, he’s got leverage — he’s like 6-3, 6-4 — so leverage definitely plays in along with his strength. He’s been in some upper-body positions where you really don’t know which way it’s going to go, and he’s ended up on the better end more times than not.”

He’s learned a lot from his drill partner, Matlock.

The two — who are longtime friends after meeting at wrestling practice in first grade — actually switched weight classes from last season. Matlock placed fourth in the state at 285 pounds in 2017 (he weighed around 230), while Julian wrestled at 220 pounds and was having a good year until his injury at the district tournament.

Since the styles of wrestling can differ quite a bit from 220 to 285, the two have helped each other understand the various challenges.

“With us both flipping weight classes, we give a little bit of knowledge off of what happened last year and just go off of that,” said Matlock, who’s 26-7 and ranked as high as third in the state. “We have an expectation of what’s going to happen this weekend and then at Columbus.”

Aside from being close friends, the two also have similarities in their wrestling.

They prefer a smart and patient approach over a flashy and risky one, which is a wise choice, Zakrajsek said. It’s never a good idea to take unnecessary risks when the downside is another man — one who weighs well over 200 pounds — falling on top of you with a great amount force.

“I like taking whatever is there for me, whatever is given to me when the time is right,” said Matlock, who admitted it took time to determine when to attack and when to be patient. “It’s just from experience and practice. If you see an opening, you have to take it and not hesitate.”

It’s only fitting that the calm, subtle approach is utilized by these two, who admit they lead more by example than by being vocal.

It’s a rather popular form of wrestling at heaviest weight classes, said Zakrajsek, who referred to the methodical style as “the heavyweight game.” Conserving energy and taking calculated chances by using basic fundamentals isn’t always the most entertaining style, but it’s generally the most successful.

“If you stay in a good position, a good stance, you have a pretty good chance of winning most matches, just by not getting out of position,” Zakrajsek said. “Those are some things we’ve worked on and kind of harped on over the last two years that really make a big difference when tournament time comes and you have these real important matches.”

They don’t get much bigger than these ones.