During practice, Riverside-Brookfield High School seniors Devontae Givens and Joe Midona often are boys wrestling training partners.
The football players also joined the sport together for the first time last season. Givens said he was “forced” by assistant coach Zach Lommatzsch to at least try.
“I don’t regret it at all. I’m going to be honest. I like throwing people. I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, I most definitely can do this,’” Givens said. “I never knew what wrestling was. But my first practice I ever had, I just kept coming and really enjoyed it. It’s definitely something I’m going to stick with in the future.”
On Dec. 29, they shared capturing their first titles ever at the Harvard Invite.
In the two heaviest weight classes, Midona won at 220 pounds and Givens followed at 285 as the Bulldogs (193 points) finished second to Bolingbrook (224).
“I did get to watch [Givens’] match. I was so excited when he won,” Midona said. “I was jumping up and down in the stands. It was cool seeing the big guys getting first.”
The invite also was a breakthrough for the Bulldogs.
Sophomores Chase Murrell (13-8 at 106) and Matt Elzy (5-3 at 182), senior Quintavius Murrell (15-5 at 120) and juniors Cade Tomkins (15-8 at 152) and Josh Gonzalez (16-6 at 145) were second.
Junior Jacob Noe (13-10 at 145) was third, senior Bill Martin (14-7 at 170) fourth, sophomore Max Strong (13-9 at 160) fifth, sophomore Ethan Rivas (7-3 at 132) seventh and junior Mateo Gonzalez (1-2 at 113) eighth.
“This is the type of tournament we need because a lot of kids took that step forward,” RBHS coach Nick Curby said. “We were winning matches that we probably wouldn’t have won earlier in the year.”
In his final, Midona pinned Gary Comer’s Malik Tate (10-7) in 1:19 after previous pins in 22 seconds and 3:16. Midona dedicated the championship victory to his mother, Sandra.
“I looked up and I see my mom sitting there and I just kept telling myself I was going to do it for her,” Midona said. “I think it was my best match of the night.”
Givens had a 1:40 title pin of St. Laurence senior Jaylen Ray (3-1) after a pin and 8-3 semifinal victory.
“I told myself I didn’t work hard for no reason. Down in the wrestling room, I sweat, cry, blood. That just pushed me even more,” Givens said. “I’ve improved a lot. It’s crazy. Last year I went downhill with a lot of things. I still had a lot of learning to do.”
In their finals, Chase Murrell lost 6-2, Josh Gonzalez, an additional 145 individual entry, lost 16-2 and Quintavius Murrell, Tomkins and Elzy were pinned. Chase Murrell, Josh Gonzalez, Tomkins, Elzy, Noe and Martin each recorded two victories by pin or technical fall.
The titlists are hopeful this sets the tone for future success.
“I consider that a wakeup call, go downstate and qualify and place on the (awards) platform,” Givens said.
“It’s going to be good motivation to get first place in state. Everybody’s dream is to get first so why not go for it,” Midona said. “I just know the feeling now and it’s something I want to work toward to keep going and going until I get to the highest point possible.”