Former All-American, Big Ten Champion has helped kick start program’s resurgence from the ground up
Trey Hunter / Sports Editor
Brian Picklo’s wrestling and coaching style dates back to the 1996 Big 10 Wrestling Tournament and a match against Iowa’s Lee Fullhart.
“It’s a fight with rules,” Picklo said.
Mustang’s first-year coach felt comfortable as he entered overtime with Fullhart during that match in 1996 – for the Big 10 title at 190 pounds. For Picklo, it was just what the doctor had ordered – a gritty, smash mouth affair that came down to the final minutes. He pulled off the win in East Lancing, Michigan, capturing the conference championship with the same form he is trying to instill within his program today.
“I want to bring a little more of that style and attitude,” Picklo said. “Coming from the Big 10 the conference it was dominated by Iowa. We knew if you’re going to beat them it was going to be in a knock-down, drag-out fight. I want to show our guys that doesn’t take any additional talent. It’s just technique and attitude.”
Picklo and the Broncos kicked off the 2016-17 season last week with anticipation for what’s to come. Mustang wrestling is rich with history, but over the years the talent has bottomed out. Now with a firm foundation in place, including a proud little league, a returning state champion junior-high team and two returning varsity state qualifiers, Picklo and his staff are looking to revitalize the program.
“I’ve said it multiple times. I didn’t come here to take part, I came here to take over,” Picklo explained. “I want the type of program that is known and feared like Tuttle and Broken Arrow. The absolute goal is to build a program that’s not just here today and gone tomorrow. We want to repeat at being at the top of the state.”
Mustang’s tradition dates back to the late 70s and early 80s, including the 1982 state championship, nine individual state champions, four All-Americans and an Olympic gold medalist. And recently the program has turned around with winning the junior-high state championship last year while the Broncos featured two state placers and a third qualifier at the varsity level.
“We have some really tough kids already and I’m excited to develop the program,” Picklo said. “There has been a foundation that has been laid and it’s strong and building upon it is what we’re going to have to do.”
Picklo jump-started the program’s development by revitalizing the city’s little league program at Matrix gym. Along with getting youth wrestlers started at a young age, he also invests time with national tournaments and sending his teams to compete against top-ranked talent. He realized how important the little league and junior-high development and competing nationally can be for the high school program as head coach at Yukon from 2000-2002.
“I didn’t realize it while I was there,” he said. “I really didn’t know anything about little leagues at the time and was oblivious to the fact that little league and junior-high development is crucial to having a strong high school team.
“I started the little league because my kids were young and wanted to wrestle. And being around other programs and seeing Tuttle, Edmond North and Broken Arrow’s little league programs killing it, I was like ‘OK’ this is why. Those kids grow up through the program and once they get to high school they are the ones that are almost guaranteed state placers or champions. It starts at the lower level and being able to replace good wrestler after good wrestler.”
Competing nationally has also been a focal point for Picklo’s wrestlers at Matrix and at the junior-high and high school levels.
“The benefits are huge,” he said. “It’s the best kids in the country and you get a true test of how you rank nationally. You get to feel and understand the level at which the best kids in the country wrestle. If they do it, they’re going to come back and compete for us like national-level wrestlers.”
Mustang’s program has been under the watch of Will Allen or Dave Rankin for many years, including Allen’s last year at the helm last winter. Picklo understands transitioning from one coach to another can be tough.
“There will be growing pains,” he said. “I have a different attitude and my passion is evident. It’s follow or get out of the way. There’s some that are going to step up and lead and there’s some that’ll have to get out of the way. With a first-year coach there’s always going to be transitional struggles, but the best way to improve is motivation.”
Another part of the equation for Mustang is assistant coach Brad Dick, who will help with the transition after coaching for Allen in previous years.
“It’s a different mentality,” Dick said of Picklo’s philosophy. “Having Brian’s knowledge in the room creates a higher learning curve and different moves that I couldn’t necessarily show. Adding in his experience and my knowledge and the other coaches creates probably one of the better staffs in the state.”
Dick was given the reigns last year by Allen, taking charge with teaching technique in the practice room. Picklo creating a dominant atmosphere with the little league and junior-high combined with he and Dick’s knowledge, the program possesses a strong one-two punch.
“What he (Picklo) has done with the little league is why Mustang will be great in the future,” Dick said. “And he is continuing what I started with the varsity as far as technique. Together with how we take teams to national tournaments in the summer and what we’re doing with the underclassmen should result in competing for state championships.”
The Broncos will look to a pair of returning state qualifiers and a pair of wrestlers with state potential. Cooper Meadows (Jr.) returns after placing fourth at 145 pounds last year while Cameron Picklo (So.), Brian’s son, returns after qualifying at 106 pounds. Also, seniors Trey Edwards and Gage McBride will make an impact as they make a run at the State Fairgrounds.
“Those guys are hard workers,” Picklo said. “Kids are going to look to the most successful guys on the team and do what they do to get better. Watching those five kids it’s easy to see that’s the reason why they’re successful.”
The leaders of Mustang’s team will reflect the same toughness Picklo showed during that match in 1996. It’s easy to see the ship heading in the right direction and the attitude spurring the atmosphere. Picklo knows his style will translate. He’s seen it before.
“Having that mentality and being determined to grind out a win and battle until the last whistle is what it’s all about,” he said. “If there’s a second on the clock there’s still time for a pin.”
Time will tell, but the clock is set for the beginning of a new era at Mustang.