Wrestling

Brownsburg wrestling: No one's laughing now

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Brayton Lee (left), Brownsburg High School, defeats Warren Central's Matt McKinney at 138 pounds, IHSAA Wrestling State Finals, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016.

Brayton Lee (left), Brownsburg High School, defeats Warren Central’s Matt McKinney at 138 pounds, IHSAA Wrestling State Finals, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016.

BROWNSBURG — Darrick Snyder doesn’t think about it much when he’s in the zone, pacing around the wrestling room at Brownsburg High School, the deep bass of the rap music thumping nearly in rhythm with the sound of wrestlers pinning each other against the mats.

He almost never stops moving and rarely interrupts his wrestlers’ concentration, except once every few minutes to call for a shift in the warm-up drills. Watching the Bulldogs coach operate, you might never guess this program was not long ago referred to as “The Titanic:” thought to be doomed and destined to sink.

Prior to Snyder’s arrival in 2014, students were being pulled out of the hallways and asked to wrestle just to bolster team’s numbers. It didn’t matter how big, or tough or passionate about wrestling they were. During dual meets, the stands would be lucky to have 30-40 spectators — far from the electrifying atmosphere Snyder experienced at Mishawaka, his former school.

“It’s been a long road getting to where we are now,” said Snyder, in his fourth year as Bulldogs coach. “The year before I got here, we finished ninth out of 10 teams in the conference. We were the laughingstock of the area for wrestling.”

Mishawaka head wrestlng coack Darrick Snyder yells instructions to one of his wrestlers. This is during the championship round of the 2009/10 Team Wrestling State Finals which were at Center Grove High School. Mishawaka won the championship round 37-17 over Yorktown. Saturday February 27, 2010. (Gary Moore/The Indianapolis Star)

Mishawaka head wrestlng coack Darrick Snyder yells instructions to one of his wrestlers. This is during the championship round of the 2009/10 Team Wrestling State Finals which were at Center Grove High School. Mishawaka won the championship round 37-17 over Yorktown. Saturday February 27, 2010. (Gary Moore/The Indianapolis Star)

Brownsburg (12-0) is far from the laughingstock now. The Bulldogs are currently ranked No. 1 and have four wrestlers — Ty Mills, Blake Mulkey, Brayton Lee and Nathan Walton — leading their respective weight classes one year after winning the midseason Class 3A team state title and crowning one individual state champion.

But Snyder didn’t need immediate success to believe Brownsburg could be something special. Hired as a U.S. History teacher and the school’s wrestling coach, he got a Bulldog tattooed on the front shin of his right leg before the school year started. He added the year “2016” after the team’s 17-0, title-winning campaign that year.

“First and foremost, he’s a teacher,” Brownsburg athletic director Kelli Waggoner said. “He eats, drinks and sleeps wrestling during the season, (but) he’s one of the top guys I’ve seen not just coach that sport but coach in general because he’s got his priorities straight.”

If Brownsburg told Snyder tomorrow that he was no longer allowed to coach wrestling, he insists he would “wake up and have a great day teaching.” But it’s unlikely Snyder leaving would sit well with his wrestlers, who attribute his coaching as a core factor behind the program’s turnaround.

Without Snyder, Mills, a 2015 state runner-up, isn’t sure he would have ended up at Brownsburg. He had been homeschooled leading up to his freshman year and was scoping out schools around Hendricks County for strong wrestling programs. But as soon as he stepped foot in one of Snyder’s open gyms and heard the coaching philosophy, Mills knew his mind was made up.

“What he said during those practices was aligned with what I think a good coach should be,” said Mills, who is currently the state’s top-ranked wrestler at 120 pounds. “He just really emphasized hard work and determination. Like, ‘We’re going to work hard, here and now, and none of the other teams are working right now.’

“We’re doing in here in Brownsburg, other people aren’t doing, working out (individually) on Sundays, working hard while they’re sitting around playing video games.”

The majority of coach-athlete relationships require a bridge of trust to be built, but Snyder’s credentials — producing two state team titles and multiple state champions at Mishawaka — earned him a great deal of respect before he met many of his Bulldogs. And it doesn’t stop there. Wrestling means too much to Snyder to stop with just the high school.

Once a week throughout the middle school wrestling season, Snyder can be found sitting with the team; never coaching, but there to build a relationship with kids he hopes will one day wrestle for him in high school. He also helms a local wrestling group for kids ages 4-6 that he calls the “Ankle Biters,” hoping to set a consistent style and standard for wrestling in the town.

Brownsburg High School wrestler Tyler Mills is introduced during opening ceremonies in the 106-pound weight class. The 77th Annual IHSAA State Wrestling Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015.

Brownsburg High School wrestler Tyler Mills is introduced during opening ceremonies in the 106-pound weight class. The 77th Annual IHSAA State Wrestling Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015.

“We’re insane, we’re crazy,” said Nick Weisjahn, who wrestled for Snyder at Mishawaka from 2004-07 and joined him immediately as an assistant at Brownsburg after taking a job at IPS. “The wrestling atmosphere in the town has increased, and we’re going to keep that pressure on to keep people coming.”

Long gone are the days of students being coerced into the wrestling room in the after-school hours. Now, athletes from other sports stop by the wrestling room just to see Snyder. He jokes around with them the same way he does with his wrestlers and his students, a nonchalant sarcasm that draws plenty of laughs.

But the way he move around the mats, hardly stopping, always watching, hints that nothing about Brownsburg wrestling is a laughing matter — not to him, not to his wrestlers, not to anybody, not anymore.

“We break (huddle) on ‘State Champions’ every day, and teams used to laugh about it,” Snyder said. “I don’t think anybody’s laughing now.”

Follow IndyStar reporter Jordan J. Wilson on Twitter: Wilsonable07.