Jaguars’ Graham takes third in state mat tournament


Brody Graham has wrestled for only three years but quickly earned his spot on the wall alongside Jackson Memorial High School’s wrestling greats and in state wrestling annals.

Wrestling in the heavyweight class, Graham won five of six bouts, including a 2-1 victory over Jose Palomino of St. Peter’s Preparatory School for third place in the NJSIAA championships at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall on March 8.

Graham did not give up a point in four victories leading up to his third-place finale. He was knocked into the wrestlebacks in a 10-0 loss to Don Bosco Preparatory High School’s unbeaten Zack Chakonis, the eventual champion regarded as the top high school wrestler in some national rankings who will begin wrestling at Northwestern University in the fall.

“I wrestled smart,” Graham said of his showing in the states. “I’d get the points, get the takedown and then ride kids out.”

“He’s an all-state kid in football and will be a third team all-state kid in wrestling, which is pretty remarkable,” Jackson Memorial coach Aaron Gottesman said.

Graham will take his football talents that helped lead Jackson Memorial to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship to the University of Pennsylvania, where he will study law. “This is a pretty great accomplishment for a kid wrestling only three seasons, three months each year because he concentrated on football,” Gottesman said.

Graham finished 34-2 and is the school’s first state place-winner as a heavyweight since John Loff finished fifth in 2002. It is the highest finish in the state for a heavyweight going back to 1994, when Steve Mc- Carthy finished second in the state for the Jaguars. McCarthy is currently an assistant coach at Jackson Liberty High School and helped Graham in workouts before Region 6 and state championships in recent weeks.

Before a quiet 2014 in the states for Jackson Memorial wrestlers, Brian Hamann finished fifth in the state at 138 pounds and Alec Huxford was eighth at 126 pounds in 2013. Dallas Winston was a state champion for Jackson Memorial at 182 pounds in 2012, and Hamann was fourth that year.

“It’s been an incredible senior year. I could not ask for much better,” said Graham, who was 27-9 and third in District 21 as a junior and helped Jackson Memorial win NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV and reach the Group IV and Shore Conference Tournament finals this season. “I have to thank my coaches and parents for supporting me. I felt I wrestled pretty solid, pretty good, but you’re always going for first place.” Graham was one of two state place-winners from Jackson; the other hails from Jackson Liberty, where Mike Russo became a state place-winner for the third straight year, finishing in sixth place in the 126- pound bracket. Russo, who finished 40-4 and two wins shy of the Shore career wins record at 157-12, lost on a 3-0 tiebreaker in the fifth-place match to Randolph High School’s A.J. Vindici. Two-time state champion Anthony Cefolo of Hanover Park High School beat Russo in the semifinals for the second straight year, 1-0. Cefolo lost in the championship finals in overtime.

Two other Jackson wrestlers lost in the early rounds. Matt Russo, Mike’s twin brother who carried a 40-bout unbeaten streak into the state championships, dropped two of three bouts, including a 7-2 loss to Bound Brook High School’s Melvin Lewis (39-3) in the second round of the wrestlebacks. Jackson Liberty coach Mike Eddy said Matt Russo had an ankle injury that limited his mobility and forced him to change his style a bit. He won his first wrestleback by forfeit.

“Both guys wrestled good but there’s nothing good about losing matches,” Eddy said. “Mike was in a very competitive weight class and how many guys place in the state three times? You have to be pretty good.”

Jackson Memorial 182-pounder Connor Bohringer suffered a broken leg just 40 seconds into his opening bout in what Gottesman called a “freak accident.” He finished 27-2.

Because of that, Graham commanded all the attention of Jackson Memorial fans in Atlantic City. In his opener, he beat Kyle Nothnagel, 1-0, just as he did by the same score in Jackson Memorial’s loss to Phillipsburg High School in the NJSIAA Group IV finals. Graham then beat Keith Swartley of Cinnaminson High School, 3- 0; St. Peter’s Palomino, 2-0; and Devontae Randall of Paulsboro High School, 2-0, in the final wrestleback. It set up a rematch for third place with Palomino, who Graham also wrestled in early January and beat, 3-1, in Jackson Memorial’s 28-26 loss to St. Peter’s. During the season, Palomino helped St. Peter’s to a seventh straight District 16 title.

The match at the state championships was scoreless into the third period, when Palomino scored on an escape and Graham chose bottom and got a reversal midway through. Graham then rode Palomino out from there for the victory.

“My strength is being a mat wrestler, whether it’s top or bottom,” Graham said. “On my feet, I get the takedown. As a heavyweight, I keep moving so I can wear guys out. The whole thing is as long as I can stay on position and not get too excited and stay focused, I can dominate the match.”