When Brandon Riggins decided to give wrestling a try during his freshman year in high school, the approximately 160-pound new-to-the-mats competitor couldn't have predicted where his career would take him.
Four years later, Riggins went 45-0 in the 195-pound division for Norwalk High School, winning the FCIAC, state Class LL, State Open, and New England championships.
Riggins wasn't done defeating the competition. He went on to continue his wrestling career at Springfield Technical Community College in Massachusetts. So far so good for the freshman who has won nine of his first 10 matches.
"All throughout my senior year it was easy," said Riggins, who ended his high school career with a 145-17 mark. "It's been a big step."
After competing in the 197-pound weight division to begin his collegiate career, Riggins has been working to drop a little weight to compete in the 184-pound division.
Springfield Technical Community College is a part of the National Junior College Athletic Association and is the only two-year junior college in New England to offer wrestling, said Alberto Nieves, Riggins' coach. Riggins and his teammates take on schools including American International College, Western New England College, and Rhode Island College. He won the Ted Reese Tournament at the University of Southern Maine in early December.
"I'm not surprised because I know my abilities," Riggins said of his success this season. "But I was expecting the level of competition to be way higher."
Because the competition has been tougher, it's taken lot more effort for Riggins to keep up his winning ways after high school.
"I've gone the distance in every match," he said.
Nieves said Riggins is adjusting.
"He's transitioning well," Nieves said. "He's more technical. He has to work on his endurance. He's naturally strong and naturally talented."
Among the subtle changes in collegiate wrestling is that grapplers can earn a point by riding or maintaining control on top of an opponent for a minute. That requires good management in a match, and can prove to be the difference in close competitions, Nieves said.
Riggins has the goal of qualifying in the season-ending national competition, and his coach is confident his freshman grappler will make some noise among the best.
"He's one of those kids that will do well when it comes to nationals," he said, adding that he gives Riggins a shot at winning a national title, and is confident he should finish among the top six.
Nieves believes Riggins has a lot of his success because of his passion for wrestling.
"He has a big heart," the coach said.
Riggins said the most difficult part about wrestling now is juggling his sport along with school work and his job. He is studying criminal justice and works in the school's weight room.
He intends to take a year off beginning next fall, and go into the Army Reserve, then get back onto the mats the following season.