Althoff senior Danny Braunagel began to wrestle at the age of 5, when his dad, Joe Braunagel, thought Danny and twin brother Zac would be too short to play basketball.
It took the Braunagel brothers a while to warm up to the idea.
"Actually, my older brother, Jarrid, who was seven, Zac and I, we all started at the same time," Danny Braunagel said. "After a year or so, Jarrid took off in wrestling and won a state title. Whereas, Zac and me, we were just kind of going through the motions, staying in shape for football.
"It wasn't until middle school that I really started taking it seriously. I decided that I wanted to wrestle in college, so I gave up football. Zac actually played football his first two years of high school."
Now 12 years after strapping on the head gear for the first time, Danny Braunagel ends his high school career as a two-time state champion. After winning the Class 1A 152-pound crown a year ago, he put an end to a dominating and record-breaking season in February when he defeated Daniel Jezik, of Coal City, in the 160-pound state title match at State Farm Center in Champaign.
Less than 20 minutes later, Danny Braunagel watched as brother Zac won his second straight title, taking the 182-pound crown.
"We're very close. A lot that comes from wrestling because here at Althoff, we are each other's practice partners, and that has been going on basically since we started wrestling," Braunagel said of his brother. "At the state tournament, nobody was happier than I was when he won the second straight state championship, and I know he felt the same way when I won.
"There are times when it gets a little chippy in the practice room. But we're brothers, and that's the way it is with brothers. We're best friends, and I'm just happy we're both going to the same college."
Voted as the Belleville News-Democrat Wrestler of the Year, Danny Braunagel will have a different practice partner beginning this summer when the Braunagel brothers head to the University of Illinois to begin their academic and athletic careers.
But the second-straight state championship was just part of the story for Danny Braunagel this season. The undefeated 152-pound champion as a junior when he finished 47-0, Braunagel went 58-0 this year and ends his Crusaders career with 105 straight wins. His last loss came in the 145-pound state title match as a sophomore.
"I think losing that match my sophomore year was a wake-up-call, but it was also a confidence booster. ... I left knowing that I could compete with the best wrestlers in the state," Braunagel said. "It got us both to work harder, and that was a time when we were getting bigger and stronger, too.
"Between my sophomore and junior year is when I took the big jump as far as my ability goes. By the end of that summer, there was no doubt that I could compete with the best in the state and also the best in the country."
The 58-0 record broke the state mark of 57 straight wins in a season set by Mikey Benefie, of Lombard Montini, in 2007. Braunagel also set what will be state marks for technical falls in a season (39), tech falls for a career (76), points in a season (1,005) and points in a career (2,716). But Braunagel said he was oblivious to the types of numbers he was putting up this season.
Braunagel's numbers have not been officially added to the IHSA record book. To Braunagel, all that mattered was improving each match and having a little fun along the way.
"Obviously those are great accomplishments, and I am very appreciative of the training partners and the coaches who have helped me get to this point in my career. But doing all that hasn't been the goal," Braunagel said. "The goal has always been to compete, have fun and get better.
"My dad has always kept track of the numbers. I never really want to know, but after the season when he told me, I was surprised."
The Braunagel brothers will compete in national tournaments this summer and will also attend classes and begin workouts with their University of Illinois teammates.
Braunagel said he hopes to wrestle beyond college with the dream of becoming an Olympic champion.
"I'm excited. I watched the NCAA Division I championships, and that really got me even more motivated," Braunagel said. "I've always been one to put in the extra work and do whatever it takes to be successful. But I've been told that it takes other things as well to reach the level I want to get to.
"All I can do is continue to work as hard as I can, continue to improve each day and listen to and work on the things that the coaches I will have along the way tell me to do."
BND All-Area Wrestling Team
Wrestler of the Year
Danny Braunagel, Althoff, sr.
Coaches of the Year
Josh Harper, Althoff, and Tom Reed, Cahokia
- 106 pounds: Anthony King, East St. Louis, sr.
- 113 pounds: Noah Surtin, Edwardsville, jr.
- 120 pounds: Marquis Wilson, Cahokia, sr.
- 126 pounds: Luke Odom, Edwardsville, soph.
- 132 pounds: Justin Koderhandt, Belleville West, sr.
- 138 pounds: Max Kristoff, Althoff, jr.
- 145 pounds: Alex Maguire, Roxana, jr.
- 152 pounds: Martell Boone, Cahokia, sr.
- 160 pounds: Danny Braunagel, Althoff, sr.
- 170 pounds: Jack Bond, O'Fallon, sr., and Rozell Baker, Cahokia, sr.
- 182 pounds: Zac Braunagel, Althoff, sr.
- 195 pounds: Sam Martin, Edwardsville, jr.
- 220 pounds: Jacob Bullock, Cahokia, sr.
- 285 pounds: Mason Baker, O'Fallon, soph.
- 106 pounds: Josh Koderhandt, Belleville West, fr.
- 113 pounds: Kylan Montgomery, Mascoutah, fr., and Caleb Tyus, Civic Memorial, fr.
- 120 pounds: Garrett Lee, Collinsville, soph.
- 126 pounds: Chase Bittle, Althoff, sr.
- 132 pounds: Rodney Evams Cahokia, sr., and Patrick Grzywacz, Collinsville, sr.
- 138 pounds: Garrett Bass, Belleville West, sr.
- 145 pounds: Dalton Viglasky, Waterloo, jr.
- 152 pounds: Logan Johnson, Belleville West, jr.
- 160 pounds: Caleb Grau, Belleville East, jr.
- 170 pounds: Ernest Moore, East St. Louis, soph.
- 182 pounds: Arnold Edwards, Cahokia, soph., and Reide Wilson, Granite City, soph.
- 195 pounds: Jaylen Washington, East St. Louis, soph.
- 220 pounds: Josh Anderson, Edwardsville; jr.
- 285 pounds: Kyle Hughes, Alton, jr., and Danny Brownlee, Cahokia, jr.
106: Jaylen May, Collinsville; Caine Tyus, Civic Memorial; Matthew Minick, Althoff; 113: Lamonte Barns, Cahokia; Isaiah Bernal, Althoff; Nathan Nelson, Granite City; 120: Colton Brown, Highland; Nick Norwood, Mascoutah; Gus Kodros, Alton; 126: Trenton Finch, Mascoutah; Hudson Brown, Civic Memorial; Adam Thebeau, Bellleville East; Garrett Sims, Alton; 132: Anthony Federico, Althoff; Dylan Wright, Edwardsville; Justin Sanders, Belleville East; 138: Garrett Bakarich, Triad, Jacob Averett, Mascoutah; 145: Pierre Evans, Alton; Michael Faulkner, O'Fallon; Peyton Bechtold, Civic Memorial; 152: Courteney Wilson, Alton; Jared Skaggs, Granite City; 160: Kenny Lutz, Collinsville; Zeke Waltz, Jerseyville; Devin Wills, Highland; Brady Christeson, Civic Memorial; 170: Aaron Wallace, Belleville East; Aric Crehan, Triad; Jake Erslon, Wood River; 182: Russell March, Collinsville; Nolan Woszczynski, Alton; 195: Chase Nelson, Granite City; Kaleb Woolverten, Triad; Gabe Grimes, Wood River; 220: Amear Farag, Waterloo; Zach Kincade, Wood River; 285: Nolan Schmidt, Althoff; Lloyd Reynolds, Edwardsville