Controlled competitiveness: Brock Mauller’s rapid ascent of college wrestling

The freshman has been nothing short of dominant this year. He didn’t start the season that way.
Missouri wrestler No. 7 Brock Mauller competes against Buffalo wrestler Jason Estevez in a match on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018 at Hearnes Center in Columbia, Mo. Zach Bland/Mizzou Athletics

Mike Eierman has seen a lot of wrestling. The mid-Missouri based youth coach has molded hundreds of athletes. Those of all ages, skill levels and backgrounds have stepped onto his mat in Fulton, Missouri – about 30 minutes east of Columbia – hoping to learn, to improve and to ultimately turn themselves into the best wrestler possible.

Even with the great number of trainees he’s had, he still remembers his first impression of a 6-year-old from Columbia.

“He was really young and he hated losing,” Eierman said of No. 7 Brock Mauller, MU’s starter at the 149 class. “And every time he lost, he would be really upset and be really angry and pout and do some stupid things. But I gotta say that Brock, for sure – for me as a coach – made the biggest adjustment and transition from what I saw then – the 6, 7, 8-year old I saw then – to who he is now. I can’t tell you anyone who’s come even close to that transition. Not even close.”

Mauller has grown into one of the best wrestlers in the nation; a true freshman who’s taken all who don’t know him – and some who do – by surprise, starting off the season with a dominant run of 24 wins and one loss. It’s a season he originally planned to spend watching from the bench.

Nine years after meeting Eierman, Mauller met another youth coach who he frequently worked with: James Williamson, a former MU wrestler who began coaching at Father Tolton Catholic High School in Mauller’s sophomore season. After just one year of high school, the sophomore was already the defending Missouri class 1 state champion of the 126 weight class.

“I thought he had division one written all over him,” Williamson said. “He had the right mindset and – something wrestlers struggle with – he had the commitment, the daily grind. He just doesn’t have any trouble with that.”

Williamson’s initial hunch of D1 greatness proved to be true. Mauller won four consecutive state championships, all of them at different weight classes. His skill was always evident, but what Williamson remembers as his biggest strength was less in body and more so in mind.

“I don’t think Mauller lets losses eat him up,” Williamson said. “He hasn’t had that many losses, but he’s the kind of guy who tries to figure out what’s wrong and then go after it, fix it … he’s fallible, but that confidence there is almost unshakeable.”

Mauller learned to harness his competitiveness and now, instead of it being the detriment it was in his youth, it became an asset.

“We don’t like losing at that age but he had a really hard time dealing with it,” Eierman said. “It was a lot of work, but over time you start to see a different human being. To come full swing, it was pretty impressive.”

By the end of his high school career, Mauller was one of the most successful wrestlers in Tolton history, and one of two wrestlers in program history – the other being fellow Mizzou Tiger Jaydin Eierman – to win four state championships. Even after hitting the pinnacle of high school wrestling four times over, bigger and better opportunities called.

“His senior year, he was ready to go to the next level,” Williamson said. “There was nothing else I could really do for the young man. He was ready for tougher challenges.”

Missouri coach Brian Smith had had his eye on Mauller for awhile, seeing him for the first time at a camp when Mauller was a sophomore. Smith watched as the high schooler stepped onto the mat against a collegiate All-American.

“He was competing with Lavion Mayes, who was one of our best wrestlers, and going back and forth with him,” Smith said. “I remember that day, telling my coaches, ‘This kid’s special. This kid’s really good already.’”

Mauller signed his letter of intent to wrestle for Mizzou on Nov. 8, 2017, as part of a loaded recruiting class that included the No. 2 heavyweight in the country, Zach Elam, and Mauller’s teammate at Tolton and fellow state champ Jarrett Jacques.

“It’s home,” Mauller explained. “It’s where Jaydin [Eierman] and Mike [are] and it just felt like this was where I needed to be to succeed.”

But before he could succeed, he’d have to wait. Mizzou’s starter at Mauller’s 149 weight class was No. 4 Grant Leeth, a redshirt sophomore who was the reigning Mid-American Conference champion.

At a preseason media day in November, Smith told reporters that Mauller would be taking a redshirt season, learning behind Leeth and having the opportunity for a bigger role in 2019-20, an assignment Mauller accepted with perhaps a hint of reservation.

“I’m ready to get thrown in right now,” he said that same day. “That’s just in my mind the whole time.”

Despite the redshirt, he was still eligible to participate in tournaments separate from the regular season without sacrificing a year of eligibility. He competed at the Lindenwood Open in St. Charles, Missouri on Nov. 20. In what figured to be one of his only sparring opportunities of the year, he went 3-1, taking home a second place finish in his weight class.

Less than a month later, Leeth announced on Instagram that he had torn his labrum and was out for the rest of the year. After the next match, a 48-0 drubbing of Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, Smith announced that Mauller’s redshirt had been waived and that he would start the next week. Mauller was being thrown in.

It was a bittersweet feeling for the freshman, who had to balance the conflicting emotions of seeing a teammate get injured with the excitement of seeing regular season action.

“First of all, I hoped he was okay,” Mauller said. “I didn’t want him being injured. He’s an All-American. He earned his spot last year. Doing what he did was amazing ... but he did have to have surgery. That opened the gate for me and my mindset gave me the opportunity to do what I needed to do.”

Mauller made his first regular season appearance the next week against Jason Estevez of the University of Buffalo. Mauller controlled the match for all three periods and won easily. The final score was 8-2.

In the three months that have followed, he hasn’t lost. Going from a redshirt to a top-10 ranking in the nation in the same season is by any measure a huge turnaround, but neither Mauller nor Mike Eierman – a mentor of the last 13 years – are surprised.

“A lot of these guys in college, they have no idea what he’s doing,” Eierman said. “But we’ve been doing this since he’s been 7, 8 years old. We’ve been preparing for these things, you know, our entire life.”

Through all the ups and downs Mauller’s been through – the wins, the losses, the state championships, a waived redshirt, his emergence as a premier NCAA wrestler – one thing hasn’t changed: his drive. He still approaches his craft with the same competitiveness of his 6-year-old self. The only difference is that he now knows how to channel it and use it to his advantage.

“Taking these losses throughout my kids and high school career really helped me to really channel what I needed to do and got me prepared for college,” Mauller said. “You’ve got to learn how to lose before you can win.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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