Brett Underwood knows exactly what he wants to accomplish on the wrestling mat. The Piedmont junior doesn’t have to look any farther than the bulletin board in his bedroom for motivation.
On the board, Underwood has a clear list of goals: “1. Get 100th win; 2. Win a state title; 3. Don’t settle, keep going; 4. Get what is yours; 5. Get 200th win.”
Those goals and his passion for wrestling drive him every day.
“I love wrestling more than any words can describe,” Underwood said. “It’s just the right sport for me. I love to go out and bash the other kid, and prove that I am the best wrestler on the mat. Wrestling is definitely a team sport, but when you get out on the mat, it is just you versus your opponent. You have to go out there and win or lose the match. I love the feeling.”
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Underwood, 16, went 32-20 as a Piedmont freshman and 45-3 last season as a sophomore. He won the Southern Carolina Conference title, and finished third at the 3A Midwest Regional and sixth in the state meet in his 126-pound weight class.
This season, Underwood, started with a 31-0 record in the 132-pound weight class, through Jan. 9.
The Piedmont junior, who is ranked No. 2 in the 3A 132-pound class by Retro Rankings, already has multiple tournament victories, including: the Pre-Thanksgiving Duals at Southwest Randolph High, the Patriot Duals at Pinecrest High, the Bobby Abernathy Tournament at Piedmont, the Jerry Hampton Tournament Invitational at Central Davidson, the Tiger Holiday Classic in Chapel Hill and the Border Wars tournament at South Pointe in Rock Hill.
Underwood can scratch one of his goals off his bedroom list: He collected his 100th career victory in the Pinecrest tournament on Dec. 6.
He wins with a methodical approach that doesn’t involve a lot of pins. Instead, he beats his opponents with decisions, major decisions and tech falls.
“Brett has always been one of those kids that hated to lose more than he loved to win,” said first-year Piedmont wrestling coach Jamie Belk, who spent 12 years as an assistant to Todd Stokes. “When he gets on the mat, he is going to find a way to beat his opponent.”
“My mentality every day is that I have worked too hard to let my opponent beat me,” Underwood said. “Every time I take the mat, I feel like it is not only my time to win, but also my time to show how hard I have worked.”
Underwood says he benefited greatly from growing up in the Piedmont wrestling program that begins at Piedmont Middle School with coach Jim Swayney.
“Our wrestling program starts with coach Swayney and (the) middle school program, and that is a huge key for us,” said Belk, noting that most of his wrestlers come to high school with three or four years of experience.
While Underwood took some lumps early in his wrestling career, he got inspiration and learned from former Piedmont wrestlers like three-time state champion Parker Von Egidy, who is now wrestling for West Virginia University).
Underwood joined Von Egidy in becoming only the second wrestler in school history to qualify for the state individual tournament as a freshman.
“I think about the great tradition and wrestlers like Parker all the time,” Underwood said. “I want to be compared to Parker and talked about like Parker. I know I can’t get up on that wall (for a state championship) three times (like Von Egidy), but I’d like to be up there twice. …
“I think about winning a state championship every single day. I’ve definitely daydreamed about being in the state finals a few times when I’m sitting in class.”
The Panthers also have major team goals. They returned 10 starters this year and get contributions from co-captains Austin Bagley and Austin Purser, both juniors, and the Panthers’ lone senior, Tyler Scott.
The Piedmont wrestling team (22-3 this year through Jan. 9) is used to winning, going 81-16 in Underwood’s three seasons at the school. The program has also won the past six SCC titles. Piedmont, which won the 2012 2A state championship going 38-0, hasn’t lost to a conference foe or Union County school since 2007.
“Every year, the older guys have to help our new guys understand that at Piedmont, the expectation is to be the best,” Underwood said. “But you have to put in a lot of work and keep pushing and pushing all the time to be best.”
Underwood also wants to prove himself on a national level, and he wrestles year-round for the Darkhorse Wrestling club under coach Casey Boyle.
Underwood has also experienced success in national tournaments, with one of his best results coming when he went unbeaten at the Journeyman Classic in October.
Underwood hopes to draw the attention of college wrestling coaches. He already has some interest from schools like Campbell University and N.C. State.
But his focus remains on the mat.
“I expect myself to win conference, regionals and things like that,” Underwood said. “But I want the bigger things like state titles, national titles, All-American. No matter what I do, I will always want more.”