He is the smallest and perhaps quietest member of the 10th-ranked Northwestern wrestling team.
But when he’s on the mat, Brandon Precin is hard not to notice.
A true sophomore, Precin has climbed to a ranking of fifth in his 125-pound weight class and is coming off a victory over Illinois’ eighth-ranked Gabe Flores.
A two-time Illinois state champion in high school, Precin wasted no time in making his presence felt in Evanston, winning the first match of his career over Michigan’s Mark Moos, then a senior ranked 12th in the country.
So pardon senior heavyweight Dustin Fox for twice including the word “wow” in his first impressions of Precin.
The first time he met Precin, Fox simply thought, “Wow, he looks really young.” But once he saw the 125-pounder wrestle for NU in his first meet, Fox was taken aback for a different reason.
“In his first match he beat a top-(12) ranked kid, Mark Moos from Michigan, and it was just like, ‘wow,'” Fox said.
Still, Precin himself has never seemed terribly “wowed” by his own performance.
The sophomore is as stoic as they come in competition, and his victory celebrations consist of jogging from the mat to the other team’s sidelines to shake the opposing coach’s hand. After that, he makes a beeline straight to the locker room, displaying about as much emotion in the process as Ben Stein on sedatives.
“It’s cool to have a kid be as good as him and be as unassuming as he is and modest – and a pretty interesting kid on the whole,” Fox said.
He added that the sophomore has not changed “one little bit” since arriving to campus.
Despite his modesty, Precin does not hide the fact that his goal is to win a national title in this year. With added maturity and experience, Precin has been able to knock off some wrestlers he lost to a year ago, including the Illini’s Flores.
After losing to Flores last year and earlier this season in December’s Midlands Championships, Precin corrected a few minor details in his strategy and earned a 4-2 overtime decision over his rival.
Such has been Precin’s story in 2008: a talented wrestler who is quickly learning the finer points of the sport.
“The difference is my technique’s been a lot better,” Precin said. “Last year I would ram into guys and that was it. This year I actually think about what I’m going to do and try to implement it in my matches.”
Precin hasn’t coasted through the entire season, dropping a particularly tough match to No. 1 Jayson Ness of Minnesota in a 12-4 major decision. Ness is one of three sophomores (including Precin) currently ranked in the top five of the 125-pound class, so unless one of the wrestlers changes weight classes, Precin will have serious rivalries evolving over the next two years.
Just as he did with Flores, Precin will have to study film and analyze how to break through the next road block on his journey to No. 1.
“He’s very persistent,” coach Tim Cysewski said. “He doesn’t wrestle outside of what he does well. … He’s one of those guys who is very steady. He’s not going to make mistakes.”
The sophomore will have more opportunities to climb to the top of his weight class starting this weekend, when he will grapple with a pair of ranked opponents: No. 20 Collin Cudd of Wisconsin and No. 3 Angel Escobedo of Indiana.
A victory over Escobedo, another sophomore, would be huge.
But if Precin pulls off the win, don’t expect to hear too much about it – not from Precin, at least. He’ll probably just maintain his steely gaze, jogging from opposing sideline to locker room, and, if he has it his way, all the way to a national title.