Faith, Discipline, Excellence: The Extraordinary Matt Brown
There is no place to hide on the wrestling mat. Success and failure falls upon the individual. Once a wrestler steps on the mat there’s no team to hide behind, no one to blame, no excuse to make. Wrestling comes down to two individuals going to battle, attempting to assert dominance over each other. Losing does not mean that your opponent scored one more basket than you; it means that he dominated you physically. The sport can be brutal, both physically and mentally.
For even the most talented athletes, the journey towards top-level collegiate wrestling follows a rough path. The great wrestler spends countless hours on the mat, practicing double-legs, single-legs, and escapes. He never quits, despite the common love-hate relationship that many develop with the sport. He fights through inevitable discouragement, even as he watches the football and basketball players receive most of the glory.
To those outside of the community, wrestling lacks the glamour of these mainstream sports. Even here at Penn State, where the wrestling team has won the last four national titles, the team goes largely unnoticed. While Rec Hall may pack in fans for their home matches, the student body remains largely ignorant to Penn State’s wrestling team.
The most recognizable Penn State wrestler is undoubtedly Matt Brown, and he deserves every bit of recognition and more. Much has been written of his success while at PSU; Brown has accumulated over 100 wins while at Penn State, and currently sits at 17th on the all-time win list. Brown finds himself staring down his final Big Ten Championship weekend, with life after college creeping ever-so-closely behind. While Brown struggles with the inevitable temptation to look forward, it’s time to take a look back at his career.
Winning Is A Habit
Cyprus High School sits in the Magna Township of Salt Lake City, Utah. The medium-sized public school currently holds 1,650 students. There, Brown accumulated a 149-4 record, including three state titles and two All-American nods. Brown finished high school ranked as the 10th best 145-pound wrestler in the nation.
With a large number of colleges to choose from, Brown ultimately chose Iowa State, then coached by fellow Mormon and arguably the greatest collegiate athlete of all-time, Cael Sanderson. Sanderson, a four-time national champion at Iowa State and 2004 Olympic gold medalist, raised the Cyclones’ wrestling program to new heights, and was named NCAA Coach of the Year in 2007. Brown redshirted his freshman year at Iowa State, a very common practice in a sport with no professional draft to draw students out of college early.
The young, talented wrestler made a very uncommon decision after his first year at Iowa State. Brown chose to travel to Africa and work as a missionary for two years. He took himself away from the bright lights of NCAA wrestling, top-notch workout facilities, and all of the great wrestlers he could have trained with. He chose to spread his faith and impact the lives of people far away, which while undoubtedly noble, could have buried his athletic career. He split time between Mozambique and Angola, touching the lives of people far away with no connection to his burgeoning wrestling career.
Brown’s travels did not slow him down. He returned to the U.S.A. following his mission and linked up again with Sanderson, now the head coach at Penn State. He spent his first year wrestling for the Lions behind all-time great Ed Ruth at 174 pounds, but showed flashes of brilliance when placed into the lineup. At the same time, he enrolled in Penn State’s Army ROTC program. Brown’s disciplined lifestyle and strong character made him a natural fit for the program while the basic exercises he used to stay in-shape overseas made him a natural fit for Army-oriented workouts.
Wrestling, Faith, and Family
As if Matt’s wrestling, academic, and ROTC obligations were not enough, he also took on another big responsibility between the 2011 and 2012 season: He became a husband. Brown married fellow Penn State student (now graduate) Lauren Hemrick, who shows great passion for the LDS church, demonstrating once again how important a role his faith plays in his life. The LDS church places a great deal of emphasis upon marriage, and Mormons marry at rates significantly higher than the U.S. average, so it’s no surprise that Brown and Hemrick took the leap while still so young.
Brown’s lifestyle seems implausible, and it almost is. While many Penn State students spend multiple nights a week goofing off, he makes different choices. Such a commitment to excellence in all facets of life comes with a cost, and ultimately leads to a completely different lifestyle than that of most college students. Every single second of each day includes a choice, essentially boiling down to how one will choose to utilize that moment. Brown uses his moments to focus on wrestling, school, faith, and family. There remains little time for anything else. The level of discipline implicit in Matt’s lifestyle at Penn State cannot be overstated.
Despite his ever-growing number of responsibilities, Matt only found even greater success on the wrestling mat. In his second season wrestling for Penn State, he went on to claim a Big Ten Championship, and finished second in the NCAA Championships, losing a tiebreak to Oklahoma State’s Chris Perry in the finals. Penn State collected its third straight national title. Immediately, people began to take notice of Brown, yet he never sought the spotlight. His interviews can be notoriously bland, and he rarely utilizes social media. In a world where star athletes cannot seem to avoid the headlines, Brown shows the media only what he wants them to see.
Brown entered his junior season as a clear fan favorite among the PSU wrestling faithful. He rolled up a 29-5 record, with many speculating he could again challenge for the NCAA title at the end of the season. Unfortunately, his season would not end with an individual championship, as he suffered an upset at the hands of Iowa’s Mike Evans — a Pennsylvania native Brown has faced many times — in the Big Ten Championships before placing fifth in the NCAA tournament. Despite this relative individual disappointment, Penn State still managed to capture its fourth straight national title, and Brown’s stardom only increased.
An established fan favorite, Brown entered his senior season hoping to lead the Lions through what many projected as a “down year.” So far this season, he’s done just that, racking up a 21-2 record with an undefeated 10-0 record in the Big Ten. Penn State has compiled a very respectable 11-4 record. He has yet to be taken down in a dual meet this year, an impressive feat shared with fellow senior Morgan McIntosh. The two seniors have proven invaluable to the Lions this year, standing as the unquestioned leaders of the team both on and off the mat. They possess drastically different personalities; McIntosh is noticeably more vocal while Brown remains generally stoic.
What is next for Matt Brown? After the wrestling season concludes, he will finish out his academic career and commission as a second lieutenant into the U.S. Army. From there, the sky is the limit. With his demonstrated amount of faith, discipline, and excellence, there exists no reason to bet against Matt Brown in any facet of life. When he steps out onto the mat for the Big Ten Championships one last time this weekend, he will be fighting the temptation to look forward. Hopefully, Brown will be unafraid to take a look back.
Photo: Mark Selders/GoPSUsports.com