The calendar officially flips to February this week, which means it’s the beginning of championship season for high school wrestling.
Sure, individual champions won’t be crowned until March. But teams will chase down state titles in the next two weeks and individual wrestlers will begin their respective paths to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall (where the season culminates next month) in district and regional tournaments, building momentum for March.
The gym at Camden Catholic will become more frenzied than usual because championships are almost expected. Only two other schools in New Jersey (Paulsboro and Phillipsburg) have more team state titles than the Irish.
Camden Catholic is a regular at producing individual state champs, too. They had one last year in Lucas Revano.
The plan in 2019, at least according to Deptford Township’s Brandon Mooney, is to have at least wrestlers wearing shamrock-adorned singlets on the top podium in Atlantic City next month. As of Jan. 29, Mooney was undefeated in state competition this year (both of his losses came against the same wrestler from Virginia) and has regularly been ranked among the top 10 at his weight by wrestling pundits.
“He (has a shot at states) and I tell him that every day,” Irish coach Matt Walsh said. “Keep your gas tank filled up, because if you don’t get tired, you don’t lose. He’s fast, he’s talented and he knows what it takes to get to the top of the podium, he saw Lucas do it last year.
(He has the) confidence. I even think a lot of times the better he gets in shape, the more confidence you’re going to have. If you never get tired during a match, your confidence is going to go through the roof.”
Prior to a recent quad meet, Mooney took some time to take part in The Sun One-on-One.
The Sun: I see some websites have you top five or six in the state, what does it mean to see your name up there?
Mooney: I mean, I know I should be higher. I don’t really look at that. I just go out and wrestle my match and go from there.
The Sun: Right, it’s all white noise. But what would it mean to you to be wrestling in Atlantic City on that final Saturday of the season in March?
Mooney: I mean, that’s for sure going to happen. I know I’m going to place, I’m going to place as high as I can and just go out there and wrestle, have fun.
The Sun: Is a state championship the ultimate goal, the only goal, both of those things? How do you look at it?
Mooney: I feel like being a state champ is both. I know I’m capable of it. I work hard everyday. I work hard in the room with all of my teammates, they all push me. So I just try to go out there and wrestle.
The Sun: What motivates you? Simply trying to go out there and be the best? Or something else?
Mooney: Wanting to be the best. And me and my dad (Jamie) have a deal, we have a bet: if I do win, I get my truck lifted and I get all new rims and tires, the package I want.
The Sun: That’s pretty awesome. What kind of truck do you have?
Mooney: I have a 2004 F150.
The Sun: When did you get your license?
Mooney: January 14.
The Sun: I was going to say, it couldn’t have been that long ago. Did your dad wrestle at all?
Mooney: No. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in my family that wrestled.
The Sun: How big is your family?
Mooney: Pretty big. I mean, my cousin is on the team, Austin Raynor. He’s like my third cousin. I think he’s the only other one that I’m close with.
The Sun: Do you play any other sports?
Mooney: I played football. All the way until freshman year and then I stopped. I think I’m going to play next year again.
The Sun: Why did you choose Camden Catholic? Their reputation for having a strong wrestling program?
Mooney: I just wanted to go to the school that I know I’d be my best at. Best coaches, best kids to wrestle with …
The Sun: … and they’ve produced state champions pretty often, too. Do you remember how old you were when you first started wrestling?
Mooney: I think I was 4 or 5-years-old, when I wrestled for Deptford.
The Sun: Do you have brothers and sisters?
Mooney: I have a sister, two step sisters, and a brother. I’m the oldest.
The Sun: Do you have any wrestling role models?
Mooney: Bo Nickal, Penn State. I just like his style, it’s something I can kind of relate to.
The Sun: Do you have an overall role model, someone in your life you look up to?
Mooney: I think just probably my mom (Nicole) and my dad.
The Sun: Where did they go to high school?
Mooney: They both went to Deptford.
The Sun: OK, let’s have some fun. What one wrestler in South Jersey would you pay to watch?
Mooney: Pay to watch. That’s a hard one.
The Sun: Maybe someone you admire. I know you just mentioned Nickal, maybe there’s someone in South Jersey you’d just want to watch if you were a fan.
The Sun: If you want to be cocky, you can say yourself. [Laughs]
Mooney: I mean, yeah, myself. I don’t really know, that’s a hard one.
The Sun: You can throw one of your teammates a bone.
Mooney: Lucas (Revano) and Ant (Anthony Croce) are really fun to watch.
The Sun: OK, another one: if you could be any weight for a day, which one wrestler in the state would you want to wrestle?
Mooney: Hmmm. I want to wrestle JoJo (Aragona), a nationally ranked wrestler from Pope John).
The Sun: Just something about him?
Mooney: He’s No.1. And we’re all boys at states, we all talk with each other.
The Sun: Do you have a favorite subject in school?
The Sun: Who’s the funniest kid on your team?
Mooney: [Laughs] There’s a lot of them. We’ve got my boy Bryce (Turner) right here. Jeremy Nutt. Harrison (Hinojosa). And Will McKennon. And Anthony (Croce).
The Sun: Which of your teammates would you feel most comfortable getting into a car with?
Mooney: Getting in a car with?
The Sun: Yeah, who would you feel the safest with if you were riding shotgun?
Mooney: Ronny (Crane).
The Sun: Do you have a favorite sport outside of wrestling.
Mooney: Football and paintball.
The Sun: Paintball? How does that work?
Mooney: So I’m on a paintball team in the offseason and we do tournaments and stuff. Paintball is really fun.
The Sun: Where does that take place?
Mooney: Wenonah. But we go all over the place, Maryland …
The Sun: How long have you been doing that?
Mooney: Two years.
The Sun: What is it that you like about paintball?
Mooney: It’s just like an adrenaline rush. And you have to be in shape to play paintball. You run so much it’s unbelievable.
The Sun: So it keeps you in shape for wrestling.
Mooney: Yeah, yeah.
The Sun: Have you started looking at colleges yet?
Mooney: Yeah. I’m looking at Rider. That’s where I’m looking right now.
The Sun: What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Mooney: The Outsiders, that’s my favorite book.
The Sun: Do you have a favorite pro athlete?
Mooney: I can’t really think off the top of my head.
The Sun: Best thing you’ve watch lately, a movie, on Netflix, wherever?
The Sun: “Dexter” is awesome, I remember marathoning that.
Mooney: And “The Punisher.” It just came out with another season a couple of weeks ago.
The Sun: Last question: if it’s your turn to be announced at states, and you can pick a song to walk out to, what would be your song?
Mooney: “Crank That” by Soulja Boy.