“Let’s go out and make history.”
That’s what Ellison senior Isiah Brown told his wrestling coaches and teammates when he hit the mat at the state wrestling meet at Cypress’ Berry Center.
Brown did just that Feb. 23 as he was named the Class 6A 220-pound state champion.
Brown, a senior, became the first male from the Killeen Independent School District to win a state wrestling championship.
“It’s something that I’ve been wanting for a long time,” Brown said. “And to do it in the biggest state ... it’s cool.”
The road to a state title for the Ellison wrestler began six years ago in New Castle, Pa.
When Brown entered the sixth grade, his mother decided that her son needed a sport to help channel his anger.
“I had anger issues real
bad in middle school,” he explained. “My mom thought it was a good idea to put me in something physical, other than football.
“I joined, I liked it and I just fell in love with it.”
The idea that he could one day make a name for himself in the sport came the following season.
“Toward the end of my seventh-grade year, my coach was like, what do you think about doing this several years down the road?’” Brown recalled.
Brown was unsure, and his coach told him, “Just think about it.”
A NEW HOME IN TEXAS
Although the young wrestler had a good season in eighth grade, family circumstances found him relocating to Central Texas.
When he arrived, he went two seasons without the sport as the school he attended didn’t have a program.
“Then I came here and met coach (Michael) Christ and I’ve just been going ever since,” Brown said.
Christ, Ellison’s wrestling coach, has only worked with Brown over two seasons. He said it’s been quite the journey.
“It’s just awesome to see the kids, especially kids like Isiah, progress,” Christ said. “Because you see them on a daily to weekly basis.
“And he’s the kind of kid we’re having to rotate multiple partners against him because he’s going hard every single rep. That’s why he’s on that stage. That’s why he’s in that finals match, because he never takes breaks and it takes that kind of attitude and commitment to get to where he is.”
Many athletes dream of being able to say they earned the title of state champion, but there’s one match that means more to Brown.
“Out of all of them, my regionals match,” he said.
Brown faced 2018 state champion Sean DelMonte of Rockwall. When the two met at regionals, DelMonte hadn’t lost a match in two seasons.
“It was just electrifying,” Brown recalled. “He was coming in undefeated and people were intimidated, and I was too because this man hadn’t been beat.
“He had way more to lose than me, but I came out on top.”
The reason that match stands out above the rest isn’t just because he took down the reigning state champion or that he broke DelMonte’s winning streak, but because it was a battle to the very end.
“That’s something I’ll always keep with me,” Brown noted. “He gave me a fight that was just unbearable. After the match I was just dead, I had no more energy because I left it all out there.
“That’s what people have to do, leave it all out on the floor.”
When Brown took the mat for the final time in his high school career he faced DelMonte again with everything on the line.
DelMonte came into the rematch looking to cap off his senior season with back-to-back championships.
The rematch was just as close as the regional final. DelMonte was clinging to a 1-0 lead in the match’s final minute when he lifted Brown off the mat and tossed the Ellison wrestler on his head.
With Brown writhing on the mat, the match was stopped with 8 seconds remaining.
Brown was eventually removed from the mat on a stretcher and officials ruled DelMonte’s move illegal and disqualified the Rockwall wrestler.
That made Brown the state champion.
Not everyone agreed with the decision and Brown knows it — he was ridiculed on social media to such an extent that KISD reported the worst offenders to Twitter — but he isn’t letting it dim his spirits.
“It doesn’t bother me because it’s just another bump in the road,” Brown said.
“The kid was great, but he hit an illegal move ... and it cost him.
“It was a good match. He was up by one, and even if we’d kept going we’d have been tied 1-1. We’d have had to keep going, so I’ll never know how that match would otherwise end.”
Christ knows the competitive spirit in Brown wanted to keep wrestling, but there are some parts of competition that are out of their control.
“I don’t believe Sean did anything dirty,” Christ noted. “I think his adrenaline was pumping and he brought Isiah down a little hard.
“But from Isiah’s standpoint, he couldn’t control anything — ref called the move and then the doctor didn’t give him a chance to get back into it even if he wanted to.”
The onsite doctors indicated to Christ that due to the signs Brown was showing on the mat, the Eagles wrestler had to be removed by stretcher.
“Isiah had no determining of it,” Christ said. “It was the refs’ and the doctors’ call, so as an athlete and as a coach, our hands are tied in that aspect.
“It’s unfortunate, but we couldn’t do anything about it.”
NO HARD FEELINGS
At the end of the day, Brown wishes nothing but the best for his opponent.
“That kid is great and I hope he succeeds later in life in wrestling because he’s a great wrestler,” he said.
And while Brown took the top title in his weight class, Ellison had five wrestlers qualify to compete at state this year.
All four Killeen ISD schools send multiple wrestlers to state each season, which is why Christ believes this is only the beginning.
“It is the first time since I’ve been here that we had a kid in the state championship match,” Christ said. “It’s the first time in Killeen ISD history that a male has ever won, so it’s a humongous deal and it can’t be understated.
“Isiah Brown opens the door for every Killeen ISD kid that ever comes after him. He shows that you can go to a Killeen ISD school and you can win a state championship. It’s been done.”
As Brown closes this chapter of his athletic career, he has his sights set on the future.
“Wrestling right now is everything,” he said, noting that he plans to wrestle in college but has yet to make his final decision as to where.
“Then after wrestling, it’s all about going into the field I want to pursue — criminal justice.”