Johnson in search of elusive state medal
December 16, 2003
You can’t blame Brad Johnson for feeling snakebit or that he’s had some bad karma.
Johnson has been one of Douglas High’s most-productive wrestlers the last two years, chalking up 54 victories and making two state-meet appearances, yet shoulder injuries have not allowed him to achieve his goal of winning a medal at the state meet.
Johnson hurt his right shoulder as a freshman, but didn’t miss hardly any time on the mat. He wasn’t so fortunate last year, dislocating his right shoulder in late December.
“I was wrestling at the Sierra Nevada Classic,” Johnson said matter-of-factly. “The guy had me in an illegal arm bar and the referee didn’t call it. I got slammed, and the shoulder dislocated out the back.”
Johnson missed the next two weeks, came back for a week and then missed three more weeks. He still managed to make it to the quarterfinals of the 4A state meet when he was injured again and defaulted.
Mike Gamberg, Douglas head coach, believes that Johnson would have achieved his goal of winning a medal if not for the injury. The fact that Johnson made state was a testament to his toughness.
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“When Brad is hurt, you know he’s hurt,” Gamberg said. “He never wants to come off the mat. He’s a real tough kid.”
Johnson underwent surgery last April, and he’s back on the mat working hard. He’s chalked up a 2-2 record after winning via pin at Sparks in the dual-meet opener, and going 1-2 at the Carson City Duals.
There’s one problem, however, and it’s more mental than anything else. He seems afraid to really test his shoulder.
“I’m not at full strength since it happened,” Johnson said. “I was watching films, and I looked real slow, and I lacked confidence in my moves.”
Gamberg doesn’t disagree.
“That’s why he’s getting hurt,” Gamberg said. “Instead of going 100 miles per hour, he’s limiting himself. He needs to stop worrying and going 100 miles per hour. He gets hurt when he goes through the motions.
“It’s like a football injury to his knee and getting cut on it. Once he goes full speed and sees he can take a hit on the knee, he’ll be fine. The same goes for Bradley and his shoulder.
I can’t get him past that. He’s got to get himself past it. He can’t be afraid of doing something. It is hard to get over, though.”
Johnson, one of the team’s captains, is hoping his teammates can help him get through things and help him get back on track.
“Coach usually has me wrestling tougher guys in practice,” Johnson said. “I have to push myself harder. I’m hoping the team can energize me to help me come back.”
Again, Johnson knows what he has to do, it’s a matter of going out and doing it. He has tremendous work ethic on and off the mat, and he has the support of family and friends, which will help with the challenges he faces and is critical to success.
“This sport drains you,” Johnson said. “If you don’t have support, you won’t make it that long.”
Besides the shoulder issue, another challenge Johnson is dealing with is wrestling up three weight classes from last year. A year ago he was at 130, and now he’s at 145.
“I feel small,” he admitted. “In the past I’d wrestle guys lighter than me. Now, I’m wrestling guys that are taller and stronger.
“I can drop to 140, but we’re trying to save a spot for Matt Yaquinto (presently injured). If I wrestled at 140 that puts Matt out of a spot.”
In essence, Johnson is taking one for the team, trying to do what’s best for the 14-man starting lineup instead of what’s best for him. The unselfishness is one of the reasons he was named one of the team’s captains along with Yaquinto and Louie Gabriel.
Despite all that, Johnson still has his yearly goal of making state, and both he and his coach believe that will happen.
“The chances of me taking state are not very high,” he said. “The probability of me placing at state are very high. There are a lot of good guys out there right now (in my weight class).”
Wrestling bigger people forces Johnson to constantly change the way he wrestles people, but he is used to that. That’s how he got started wrestling.
“My older brother, Ben, was on the seventh-grade wrestling team when I was in second grade,” Johnson said. “After school, I would go over to the middle school and practice.”
And you can bet that Johnson will practice hard, and do what it takes to enjoy success again.