College Spotlight: Q&A with Andres Briones of USC

Photo courtesy of USC Wrestling

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In his fourth varsity season as a Trojan, senior Andres Briones (Servite HS) has asserted himself as a national force behind sound skills and an aggressive attitude on the mat. And while wins did not come in every match last season, the USC captain has refused to back down whomever his opponent, fully proving his ability to go toe-to-toe with the nation’s best. Briones took some time after practice to discuss his start in wrestling, the improvements he’s made over the course of the season and what to expect this season from USC.

Every Monday, The California Wrestler staff member Pablo DiMaria will unveil a Q&A format interview with a student-athlete(s) from the state of California for a new series, College Spotlight: Getting to Know.

TCW – What are you currently doing to improve for the season?

Briones – Right now, we’re just getting back after a month and a half long break after Freestyle/Greco season, so I’m starting to shake the rust off with my teammates. I can’t do anything without great practice partners and I have to give it up to them because they are kicking my butt into shape right now.

TCW – What did it mean to you to have qualified for NCWA nationals?

Briones – For me, it goes pretty deep because of my freshman year at USC, when I was still doe eyed and had no idea of the journey ahead of me, I made a promise with my teammate and best friend, Nick Cegelski. We promised that we were going to win the NCWA championships and when we did, we would get our original logo tattooed somewhere on us. Nick got close and was runner up his senior year and saved himself from a horrible tattoo, but personally, I still take every trip out to Nationals as another opportunity to fulfill that promise. Hopefully, Nick forgot about the tattoo, though.

TCW – How do you see this year’s freshman class at USC?

Briones – I probably say this every year, but even more so than year’s prior, I am excited about this year’s freshman class. We have a lot of guys with wrestling experience and those without experience make up for it with enthusiasm that is very refreshing for a veteran wrestler. We’ve also garnered more interest in our women’s program than ever before, which is what I’m most excited about. If our women’s team can take off and stand on its own a little more, I’d consider it a successful season regardless of the results on the mat.

TCW – How was the wrestling environment at Servite HS?

Briones – The environment was tough, gritty, and old school, and I loved/hated every second of it. You either got tough and gritty, or you quit. We used to practice in a small modular, and you could feel the heat from all the hard work. I came into the program as an overweight freshman with no experience in the sport whatsoever, and they made a wrestler out of me. I owe everything I’ve gained from being involved in the sport to Coach Clinton and the squad (shout out Miss Levalle!).

TCW – Are you more of an aggressive wrestler or a passive wrestler?

Briones – For this one, you just have to ask any of my teammates, especially Nick. I’m aggressive, and I’m always looking to score. I’m a big guy, so I try to defy the big guy stereotype of never shooting and having a low scoring match. I believe that it’s passive wrestling that is killing domestic viewership in our sport. I aim to be a “Tripartite Athlete.” Not only do I wrestle for my own goals and my team’s goals, but I wrestle for my sport as well. I realize that sometimes you have to grind out a 2-1 win, but you should always be looking to be entertaining as possible to put on a show and promote our sport.

TCW – Do you sometimes feel underrated due to the fact you compete in the NCWA division?

Briones –  Regarding overall skill on the mat, no. If I had more raw talent, I would be competing at a NCAA school, and I’m 100% okay with that. However, where I do feel underrated is my overall dedication to the sport. People think that because we’re a “club” we don’t take it as seriously as a NCAA wrestler, but au contraire mon frère, I’d say that we have just as much, if not more, dedication. None of us are on scholarship, so there’s no reason to be out competing other than you love the sport. We get injured just like everyone else does, but we don’t have a world-class training staff to assist us in recovering. As a student run club, a lot of the administrative duties of running the team falls upon the students, so not only do we have to worry about competing and training, but also that we have places to compete and train at. Yes, NCAA wrestlers put in an insane amount of work between practices and conditioning, but honest to the wrestling gods, I wish we had some of that insane work. We get allocated 2-3 practices a week depending on the semester, so we will drive out 2 hours in snail’s pace LA traffic to my coach’s gym in Moreno Valley just to get another workout in. Criticize my stand up all you want, but don’t tell me or anyone in the NCWA that we don’t love this sport.

Photo courtesy of the National Collegiate Wrestling Association

TCW – What’s next for you after graduating from USC?

Briones – Wrestling is and always will be the love of my life, and I always want to stay involved in the sport in some capacity. Right now, I’m looking to get into Physical Therapy, so as I’m completing my PT shadow hours, you’ll probably find me coaching at my alma mater. I’ve experienced the most amount of success in Greco out of all of the three styles, so I’m interested in seeing how far I can take that. Thank Karelin there aren’t any stand-ups in Greco!

TCW – How has college wrestling treated you?

Briones –  It’s been quite the journey. It’s giving me some major lows in my life, like when I was recovering from knee surgery but has also opened up doors for me that I never imagined myself walking through. It’s been a challenging but exceptional experience trying to juggle being a competitor and trying to run and grow the USC Wrestling program.

TCW – How did you got started in the sport of wrestling?

Briones – I grew up in a football family, my dad was on the semi-pro/professional bubble, so I was pretty much expected to play football. It wasn’t until my freshman year wrestling coach came to speak to all of the linemen that I considered trying wrestling. My mom had suggested wrestling to me at a sports involvement fair earlier, but after taking one look at the singlets I was like, “You wouldn’t catch me dead wearing one of those!” And here we are.

TCW – Why should fellow grapplers compete at USC?

Briones – I think the better question is why not? USC has it all. It’s a top 15 research University and continues to rise in the rankings. You’ll never be bored living in LA and with the USC social scene. Throw in an amazing alumni support network, and the place sells itself. You also have the opportunity to continue to advance the cause of getting a NCAA recognized team here, which can lead you to be partially responsible for many others winning NCAA titles and that’s cool.

TCW – What makes the NCWA different?

Briones – The NCWA is different because no one else is going out there and providing a framework for growing the sport at any school. Jim Gunta and everyone at the NCWA headquarters do a fantastic job every year at providing an opportunity to compete and grow their programs. They’ve also started a collegiate Greco league, aptly named GoGreco, whose goal is to develop Greco Roman wrestling on a college level and I believe that will translate to more World/Olympic medalists in Greco.

TCW – Can you describe how intense is the rivalry with UCLA?

Briones –  Not as intense as the rivalry between the fans I can say that much for certain. Most of our members get along pretty well, and I’m friends with a few of them. While we love the rivalry, we love wrestling anymore and are always working towards building up each other’s programs because that’ll make not only us better, but the sport as well.