BRIGHTON – There aren’t many people who push Brighton’s top-ranked 215-pounder Luke Ready around.
And for guys like Nick Brish, Beau Mourer or Tanner Maschke, there’s only so many times they can grapple in a room before things start to feel, well, a little scripted.
Becoming a state title contender didn’t just happen by virtue of the wrestlers the top-ranked Bulldogs returned. No, it’s a credit to their coaching staff developing wrestlers and getting them to put in the work along the way.
Few coaching staffs in the state — if any — can offer what Brighton can in a room: A team of young assistants and volunteers with nearly two decades’ experience wrestling at the college level, not to mention a combined seven individual high school state championships.
When hired on as Brighton’s wrestling coach in August 2013, Tony Greathouse’s first order of business was to find an assistant.
“I had to get another coach who has wrestled at a high level, who gets it at a high level, who understands technique at a high level who I can trust to break stuff down with the kids,” said Greathouse, a former four-year letterwinner and three-year starter at Michigan State. “I’ve been in situations before where I’ve tried to do it all myself, but it’s impossible for one person to run everything and try and do all the technique.”
Who he came up with was J.J. Johnson, a former Eastern Michigan captain, All-MAC performer and Rockford standout who also now serves as the lead instructor for the Bulldogs’ youth program.
“He’s been better than I could have ever imagined in how he relates to me,” Greathouse said. “We communicate real well and are on the same page with a lot of stuff. He’s a technical just genius. He knows technique so well and can fix things on a whim. He can literally fix something with a kid between matches and you’ll see the result of it almost immediately. He’s like having another head coach.”
In his first season, Corbin Boone, a Holt product, was brought in as Brighton’s upperweight coach after competing for Cleveland State.
Boone gives the Bulldogs someone who can push top-level guys in the heavier weights, like a Brish or a Ready, and keep things from getting stagnant in the room.
“He beats the crap out of me,” Ready said, smiling. “He’s helped me out tremendously, especially at this time of year, because you know what your practice partner is going to do because you wrestle them every day. So, when he steps in, it’s definitely a bigger challenge. He ups the ante. From where I was at, if he had never come in here, I probably wouldn’t be where I am right now.”
“It made it that much better because now we’ve got a guy who can go up with our big guys,” Greathouse said. “Big guys are a little different in the way that they wrestle. … It’s nice to have someone who is 23-, 24-years-old like Corbin who can go in and bang with those guys and beat them up. You don’t see many assistant coaches around the state who can beat up Luke Ready.”
Others on staff include assistant Jake Dorulla, another EMU wrestler and Rockford product who was a four-time finalist and two-time state champion. Jordan Thomas, a three-time state champion out of Greenville who had his college career at Michigan cut short in October from injuries, also volunteers and comes up from Ann Arbor at least once a week.
Brighton’s staff also consists of Chris Collins, the varsity ‘B’ coach who has been running its youth club for the last decade, volunteer assistant Leif Olson, the only four-time state placer in program history, and Adam Olney, an all-stater at Leslie who now coaches the middle school and Brighton junior varsity teams.
“They’ve just added a different dynamic,” Brish said. “They each have different styles and ways of breaking through to people. When they’re in the room and wrestling with us, they’re working just as hard as we are to get us into better shape. I think it’s been a huge help. They all know how to communicate with us. They’re younger guys, so they know what it’s like to be in this modern era of wrestling.”
“With them being former college wrestlers and the way they can roll around with the guys, they can learn so much more,” Greathouse said. “That’s the unique thing about wrestling. You’re not just sitting back behind the fence and telling them what to do. You can actually get in and wrestle with them and they learn so much more than just having someone tell them what to do.”
It’s that kind of hands-on approach — literally — that has taken the Bulldogs from a good program to one of the state’s elite. One that is on the precipice of winning its first state championship.
“When I first saw these guys, I mean, they were good,” Greathouse said. “(Former coach) Sam Amine did a great job and this program was full of tough, scrappy kids who believed in themselves and who were fighters, but they were young. They had graduated all their seniors. I looked at these kids and thought they were just raw. They didn’t have much varsity experience. … If you would have told me then that we would be the No. 1 seed in the state tournament two years from now, there’s no way. Maybe we could have been a state semifinal team or have a couple of kids make a run for a state title, but to be able to fill the lineup out that well, I never would have thought that.
“I just don’t want it to sound like it’s all because of us, the coaches, because the kids have taken it and run with it. For them to get that much better, it takes more than just one coach.”
Contact sports reporter Brian Beaupied at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @beaupied.