When Brandon Carroll came to his senses at the hospital on the last day of May, his collarbone and left hip had been fractured, but his mind was crystal clear.
“The first thing he said when he woke up was, ‘What about wrestling?’” said Kyle Yasgar, Carroll’s teammate and fellow senior in the Roosevelt Rough Riders wrestling room.
If Carroll could take one night of his life back, it would be May 31. He was out with friends well after midnight, a soon-to-be senior with serious aspirations on the mat, but soon found himself underneath a car in an alley behind the Fryn’ Pan on West 41st Street.
Carroll recalls that the driver, an elderly woman, opened the door and looked at him pinned beneath one of the wheels. According to Carroll, the driver then closed the door and drove over him again on the way out of the parking lot.
Disoriented and in shock from what had just happened, Carroll limped his way into the restaurant. The rest is a blur.
“I remember parts of it,” Carroll said. “I just remember that the car was on top of me, and I heard the door open and then close, and then it ran over me again.”
On top of the fractures, Carroll was left with road rash, scars and, worst of all, the prospect of missing the junior nationals wrestling tournament over the summer.
“It was pretty depressing that I didn’t get to wrestle in the summer,” Carroll said. “I do national tournaments, and just watching them on my phone or something, it just sucked that I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t work out. I just had to rest.”
Were Carroll less dedicated to his craft, the interruption may have been more tolerable. But Carroll, more so than the majority of his peers, is devoted to film study in addition to rigorous on-the-mat routines. The effect has been a tactician and two-time state champion who rarely finds himself in the wrong spot.
“He’s always putting himself in the right position, so he’s almost intimidating with his intelligence of the sport,” said Coach Darrell Kortan.
For all that mat intelligence, his accident last May served as a cautionary reminder on the importance of making good decisions. For direction, like he did before, Carroll could look to the sport he loves for guidance.
“As a freshman, he didn’t make varsity, and he wasn’t doing very well as a student – not making good choices, things like that,” Kortan said. “And then he really bought into what we were selling, and he started to have success – and just continued to feed off of that.”
Carroll threw himself into rehab, never venturing far from film study, and found his way back to the mat, unsurprisingly, ahead of schedule. He reached full strength again around the New Year.
“He’s not lucky. He’s good because of the work he puts into it and the time he invests into his craft. He doesn’t assume anything,” Kortan said. “He realized that the person you have to study the most is yourself.”
As one of the elder statesmen in the room, Carroll, Yasgar and fellow senior Dan Armstrong were tasked with setting an example for the team’s young wrestlers. Yasgar used his voice, Armstrong set the pace with his never-ending motor and Carroll filled into a cerebral role with the youngsters.
Around the midseason mark, the Riders had hit their stride. Carter Lohr ascended the 138-pound ranks, senior Alex Cappell became a steady contributor at 195, Armstrong had respect as a workhorse at 145, Yasgar earned pound-for-pound best status at 160 and Carroll quietly went about a similarly dominating season at 126.
Carroll was one of a dozen Rough Riders to qualify for the state tournament, and with Pierre advancing grapplers in every weight class, the climb for a coveted team title would be uphill. But Carroll and Yasgar each set their sights on a third state championship.
After a shaky quarterfinal round on Day One, Carroll appeared set for a collision with Tyler Waterson of Spearfish – the only South Dakota grappler to hand him a loss this season. Carroll cruised in the semis to secure a championship match against the undefeated Waterson.
In the back-and-forth bout, Carroll secured a takedown with 35 seconds left, adding back points in a near-fall situation and sending Roosevelt teammates and fans to their feet. In an instant, Waterson rolled out and flipped Carroll over – reversing the position with a perfect scramble.
The Roosevelt senior and Augustana wrestling recruit, known for almost always being in the right place at the right time, had no escape route. Waterson secured the pin. There would be no third state title for Carroll, who sat up, shook his head back and forth and offered a handshake to the deserving victor.
It’s not much of a consolation, but it had to give Carroll a sense of what it feels like to be in the same position his opponents were in at the last two state tournaments.
Each year the Riders’ wrestling room has a different motto – a saying that exemplifies the entire season. This year Kortan asked his wrestlers, particularly his seniors, to think about what their lasting footprint on the program would be.
The question of Carroll’s footprint elicits the highest praise.
“I’ve referred to him as my son, and they’re all my sons,” Kortan said, “but I’m just so proud of that young man. As a senior, he’s one of those kids that really will have a lasting footprint. … I think the sport has really had a transformation for him in all aspects of his life.”
Follow David Nicholson on Twitter at @Nicholson_Dave.