OH BROTHER: Older sibling helps draw promising heavyweight back to the mat
Updated 5:13 pm, Thursday, January 24, 2013
Daniel had missed his freshman year of wrestling for Staples High after breaking a knuckle and growth plate in his hand, and he was hesitant to return to the mat.
Although he had fully recovered physically, his emotions wavered. By the time school began, the sophomore heavyweight hadn't made up his mind.
"I was kind of debating it," Daniel recalled. "I don't know what it was, but I just didn't know if I was ready to get back into it."
Staples' first-year coach David Bernstein had helped run the GFA camp and liked what he had seen of Daniel there. So at the start of the season, he approached Alex about Daniel's interest in joining the team. Alex, a senior middleweight, prodded his brother.
"I thought (Daniel) had some potential. That was before I knew I was going to be coaching at Staples," Bernstein said during a recent practice. "I was impressed with him. And when I started coaching here, I asked his brother, Alex, `Where's your younger brother?' ... I kind of got on him, and he jumped on board after the first couple weeks."
Daniel's return has given the Wreckers a boost.
While his team has struggled (4-13 record), Daniel's made an immediate impact competing in the 220-pound class. He won 16 of his first 19 matches. Bernstein -- a former LL state champion at Fairfield Prep and Division-I wrestler at Bucknell University -- said Daniel already has the abilities and instincts of a seasoned wrestler.
"He's just a natural athlete," Bernstein said. "He's powerful for a young kid. ... He's got a lot of strength, like natural brute strength. He also moves very naturally, and he's very coachable. And he's a big guy."
Alex, who began wrestling competitively in eighth grade through Westport PAL, has, in many ways, helped his younger brother develop those abilities. Through childhood, Alex, Daniel and their older brother Ryan -- who wrestled for Staples and graduated in 2009 -- often practiced against each other.
"Since I was really little, we would always be wrestling around, fighting, all that little-older brother stuff," said Daniel, who first started wrestling competitively in sixth grade through the PAL program. "I kind of just picked up on it. Since I was really young, they were always coming onto me and messing with me. I just kind of had to go with it."
Alex and Daniel have made sure to carry on that tradition in the Kogstad household.
"There's a lot of wrestling in the living room at home," Alex said. "When we're watching football, we're watching WWE on TV and there's a commercial, we're going at it. Our parents may not always like it, but I think it's actually helped us a lot, just rolling around. ... Most of the time it's not real wrestling, but it's getting our hips under us and helping us with our balance."
The third of four brothers, Alex started wrestling for Staples as a freshman and credits Ryan for getting him interested in the sport. Now a captain at 152 pounds, he's determined to finish the year strong. He struggled through a "pretty rough" junior season, in which he missed the state tournament with a fungal infection and a knee injury. He was pinned in the first round of FCIACs at 138 pounds a year ago.
"When I started wrestling, my goal by now was to have done better," Alex said. It's too late to change what's already happened in the past. So I'm really looking forward to finally placing (at FCIACs and Class LLs) this year."
Bernstein is confident that, if healthy, Alex can reach those goals.
"Like his brother Daniel, he's got some fight in him," he said. "He gets angry. That can help you, but it can also hurt you. For him, I think it gets him going. He's had a couple tough losses, losses that he shouldn't have, and you see the next match it really fires him up."
Daniel's potential, as Bernstein notes, is even greater. He believes that if Daniel can perfect his technique, he has the natural ability to develop into a state champion.
Bernstein, who wrestled in high school at 215 pounds and college at 197, recalls practicing against Daniel at the GFA camp, and coming away impressed.
"His strength was pretty impressive. ... I couldn't believe how strong he was for (being) that young," Bernstein said. "His quickness, he's a big guy, a lot of size, but he moves like a middleweight guy."
Daniel is hopeful that he can one day be a state champion, but he realizes it will take plenty of time and dedication. He has no problem with either.
"I really want to work to be able to get to the state championship," he said. "I don't think this year it's going to happen, my first year back. I'm definitely going to try my hardest to get there."
As the youngest of four brothers, he's certainly been battled-tested.
"He's been getting probably drilled on for the last 10 years," Bernstein said with a laugh. "He's been a drilling partner for the Kogstad family. He's got the natural instinct, for sure."
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