- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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EVANSTON, Ill. -- Few colleges liked Evanston's Jeffrey Brown enough as a defensive tackle to offer him a scholarship after his senior season.
Eastern Michigan and Illinois State were his two suitors following him. Then in December, Miami stepped in. Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon saw a potential in the 6-foot-2, 270-pound lineman that many others didn't. A month later, Brown committed to Miami and joined one of the nation's top recruiting classes.
Now, Brown looks to have another unexpected, successful ending to his wrestling career. For the season, Brown has compiled a 45-1 record in the heavyweight class with his lone loss being avenged three times. But despite his glowing record, Brown isn't one of the marquee names at heavyweight -- he's ranked No. 12 in the class by IllinoisMatmen.com.
Heading into the state tournament this weekend, Brown, the ESPNChicago.com Prep Athlete of the Week, may not be the name everyone is talking about, but he may just be that dark horse who can take it all.
"Yeah, I'm overlooked, but I also like that," Brown said. "It's going to be like a surprise that nobody knows who Jeffrey Brown was until the state tournament. I kind of like it to be that way. Rankings don't mean anything. Once you get to state, No. 1 wrestlers get upset all the time."
Evanston coach Rudy Salinas agreed, to an extent. He approves of the underdog role, but he also wants Brown to eventually be ranked.
"I don't think he's getting enough respect," Salinas said. "I like the fact he's kind of flying under the radar. The last thing I want is for him to be ranked and thinking he's earned something before he's done it. I'd like him to be ranked when he places or gets to the final. That's great. Rank him after, not before."
A year ago, Brown wasn't near being one of the state's premier grapplers. He won a lot more than he lost -- he finished with a 37-11 record -- but he wasn't a complete wrestler, and he wasn't driven to win. Because of that, his season ended in his opening match at sectionals last year.
This season, Brown was committed to changing that. He spent more time working with his coaches to fine-tune his technique, especially his shooting. He applied more strategy to his matches, and he wanted to win more than ever. On Saturday, he continued that and cruised to first place at the Barrington Sectional. In the championship, he defeated New Trier's Stephen Bora 8-3. Bora was the lone person to defeat Brown this season.
"Last year, I figured I had won my regional," Brown said. "I figured, 'If I don't win it this year, I'll have next year.' I just wasn't really hungry to qualify [for state.] Once I lost last year, I saw how it felt. I was like, 'This is a one-time thing. You don't always get a second shot.' I was more focused this year than last year."
Brown improved after his junior season, but that pales in comparison to the jump he made from his freshman season. Back then, he didn't even know what high school wrestling was.
In eighth grade, Brown was asked by an eighth-grade teacher which sports he anticipated playing in high school. Brown answered basketball and football, which were the sports he had always done.
"He said, 'Why don't you give wresting a shot?'" Brown recalled. "I said, 'Well, it's not real.' I thought he was talking about WWE wrestling. He said, 'No, no, it's a totally different thing.' I went out for it in high school, liked it and had some success. I liked the contact in practice. I was getting toned up, losing weight, staying in shape for football next year. It helped all cylinders of football."
Salinas believes Brown is capable of much more, whether it's in football or wrestling.
"He's still a boy in a man's body," Salinas said. "When his mentality switches to a kill mentality ... I think that's what the University of Miami sees in him. Not only his gifts, his great hips, his speed, his size, but also that upside."
Brown doesn't think his fate this weekend will be determined by his athletic ability. If he's going to shock everyone and place at state, which is his goal, he has to do it with his mind.
"This tournament coming up this weekend, everybody is just as big, everybody is just as athletic, everybody is just as strong," Brown said. "It's like the mental mindset. 'Ok, I'm going to get this takedown, or I'm going to get this escape, or I'm going to ride this guy out for a 1:30 or however much him time is left.' You just got to do it. You can't think about it. You just got to go."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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