By Andrew Johnson
MUSKEGON – Brock Johnson already knows what it feels like to be a state champion.
But Johnson is also a really good wrestler, and he would love to experience state glory in that sport before he graduates this spring.
He came close last year, finishing fourth as a heavyweight and earning All-State honors in the Division 4 individual state finals at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
After another great regular season this winter, Johnson will begin his final quest for a state title on Saturday when he joins his teammates for the Division 4 individual district tournament at Holton High School.
The path from there goes to regionals, and then the state finals.
With a sparkling 32-1 record this season, including city and conference championships, Johnson seems like a strong contender to return to Auburn Hills, and perhaps go all the way.
He’s currently the second-ranked Division 4 heavyweight in Michigan.
“The talent level in the state is good at heavyweight this year, but if he keeps wrestling the way he has been, he should be fine,” said MCC wrestling coach Mike Michelli.
“I’m very excited to get back out there,” Johnson said. “You’re getting good competition as you move on, and you have to continue to prove yourself.”
Johnson has been proving himself in a big way over the past three wrestling seasons, racking up an impressive 94-26 career record.
What’s even more amazing is that he’s done so well with only three years of wrestling experience.
Most prep wrestlers get started in grade school these days, but that wasn’t the case for Johnson. He never started because Muskegon Catholic didn’t have a wrestling team when he was young, so there was no incentive to work his way up toward varsity.
But MCC revived its program when Johnson was a sophomore in 2014, and he jumped right in.
“I liked it as a kid just watching it,” Johnson said. “Our school didn’t have a team, and we got it back my sophomore year, so I went out.”
Johnson’s eagerness to join the new team was crucial for its success, according to Michelli.
“He’s a nice guy and a great student,” Michelli said. “Kids naturally gravitate to him. Brock was one guy we were really fortunate to have to start the program back up. To have someone kids naturally follow in a school as small as ours, it automatically gave us legitimacy.”
Johnson was immediately successful on the mat, despite his complete lack of experience.
He finished third in districts as a sophomore and qualified for regionals, but couldn’t compete because he separated a shoulder in practice the week before the tournament.
“It was very disappointing,” Johnson said. “I just had a joint get pushed too hard.”
Johnson hit his stride last season as a junior, advancing to the state finals and finishing fourth. He did it the hard way, losing his first match, then winning four straight before losing in the third-place match.
“It was exciting,” he said. “Being a new wrestler and making it to state and placing was really exciting.”
Michelli said he’s been continually amazed by Johnson’s rapid progress and success on the mat.
“It’s uncommon for someone to have that kind of success with so little experience,” Michelli said. “One thing that makes up for that is hard work. He’s constantly trying to better himself at whatever he does. He has a great work ethic. Coupled with his natural athleticism, he’s been able to do a lot.”
As it turns out, Johnson is just following a family tradition.
His father, Jeff Johnson, did not start wrestling until his senior season at Fruitport, but ended up qualifying for the state finals.
Jeff Johnson is now an assistant wrestling coach at MCC.
“I guess you could say it’s in Brock’s genetics,” Michelli said.
Johnson said the experience of wrestling in the state finals, in front a big crowd in an NBA arena, was a worthwhile experience, all on its own.
“First of all, being on the mat down there is huge, and you just see tons of people,” he said. “It’s breathtaking when you walk into Ford Field (for the state football finals). But unlike Ford Field, you’re walking out as an individual and not as a team, so it’s slower and there’s more to take in.”
Johnson said he’s ready for his final push to relive that experience.
“I’m focused and determined,” he said. “You want to beat the best kids.”
INDIVIDUAL WRESTLING DISTRICTS
Hundreds of area high school wrestlers will hit the mats on Saturday for individual district tournaments, the first stop on the road to the state finals. The top four in each weight class qualify for regionals.
The following is a list of district tournament sites, and the schools that will compete.
Division 1 at Grand Haven
Division 2 at Lowell
Division 3 at Belding
Division 4 at Holton