Brandon celebrates its third straight win in the Graves Invitational and 14th in 18 tries.

There is a mutual respect between Brandon High Wrestling Coach Russ Cozart and his predecessor, Jim Graves. That’s why Cozart initiated a tournament in his mentor’s honor. Brandon won the Graves Invitational in December for a third straight season and 14th time in its 18-year history.

Looking on proudly while the Eagles celebrated was Graves—now 75 and retired as a Brandon physical education teacher for the past 19—who notched the first 74 victories in a national record 459 wins for Brandon.

“I have one state championship here that I’m very proud of,” Graves said of the 1977 title, the first state crown for any Hillsborough County wrestling team. “I’m just as proud of my one as [Cozart] is of his 27.”

Cozart added, “Jim Graves is the one who brought wrestling to this area and he always helps me out.”

As for this year’s Graves meet, Riverview finished as the runner-up for a second straight season. The Sharks got two wins from their seven finalists. Only Brandon, with 11 finalists and eight wins, fared better.

Second-year Riverview Coach Ryan Hall, a former two-time state champion at Bloomingdale, noted that his team’s finish was bittersweet. The Sharks lost 14 wrestlers from last year’s team to graduation.

“We never ever like second place, but we did do well for a young team,” Hall said.

In the most significant upset of the tourney, Brandon’s DeShaun Newton led 11-6 in the 132-pound match before being pinned by Plant City’s Brent Ruedeman in the final minute.

“That was the best moment of my wrestling career,” said Ruedeman, a senior who had never wrestled in a tournament final or come out on top against a Brandon wrestler.

The Eagles did, however, rack up four pins: Tyson Lane against teammate Blaine Jones at 106; Jonathon Geronimo at 145 over Foundation Christian Academy’s Kaylee Clark, the lone female finalist in the meet; Onid Olavarria against Plant City’s Justin Williams at 170; and at 195 Ryan Voor pinned Riverview’s Josh Francavilla in just 22 seconds.

The other four winners for Brandon were: Jose Berdecia, 21-5 over Riverview’s Jacob Edwards at 113; Darrell Tabor, 9-2 against Plant City’s Ian McGary at 120; Roy Kruppa, 16-10 decision over Riverview’s Josiah Fregoso at 152; and Frank Diaz edged Riverview’s Oskar Hernandez 1-0 at 160.

Riverview’s two wins were pins—Nikolas Hernandez in 3:10 over Plant City’s Jason Szwejkowski at 126 and Carmelo Edwards against Brandon’s Daniel Geronimo in 3:40 at 138.

Other finalists for the Sharks included Philippe Langelier, who lost the 220 match to Plant City’s Antony Talmage.

At the conclusion of the competition, Graves and Cozart presented outstanding wrestler trophies to Olavarria and Lakeland’s Willie Lampkin, who in the 285 final pinned Plant City’s Aiden Leary in 1:15.

For his part, Graves plans to be around for many more Graves Invitationals, saying with a hearty laugh, “Thank God it’s not a memorial [tourney].”

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Nick Nahas has written for the Osprey Observer since 2016. He has lived in the Valrico area since 2002 and has his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. He is dedicated to covering sports in Hillsborough County at every level.