Deral Brown returned to his alma mater in 2021 to guide the Newberry College wrestling program. Brown led the Wolves to a 9-5 dual meet record this season, which included a fourth-place finish at the NWCA National Duals. Last weekend, Newberry won its second consecutive NCAA Super Region II title.
MatBoss caught up with Newberry's head wrestling coach talked to him about the season, winning the Super Region II title, recruiting, expectations for NCAAs and more.
Congrats on winning the NCAA Super Region II Tournament title. You finished with two champions and five qualifiers. What did you think of the team's performance?
Brown: I was super impressed with them, especially the guys that didn't qualify. They were able to shake off their losses in the championship round, fight back in the consolation rounds, pick themselves up, dust themselves off and compete for the collective so that we could win that team title. That took a lot of setting aside pride to do that when they knew their season wasn't going to necessarily continue after the tournament. I was super proud of that, but also in our seniors who really stepped up in a huge way. Not only Caleb Spears at 174 pounds and Isiah Royal at 149 pounds, but also Talon Seitz who is a senior and qualified at 165 pounds too. Just super proud of them. It's just been a roller coaster of a season. Sometimes we felt like the wheels are falling off, but for it to all come together there at the end and the way that it did, it just felt really good.
Isiah Royal is a returning national champion and two-time national finalist. What makes him special?
Brown: I would say his mindset. He works hard. There's no shortage of people that work hard in our program and throughout the country, but it's his mindset. When he's focused and locked in, I don't think anyone can beat him. He even talks to the team a little bit about the power of the mind specifically and how that can help elevate your wrestling when you're out there competing. Being able to take and apply what you do from practice and do that in the match. He talks a lot about just confidence and believing in himself. But then understanding that the work he puts in is what backs up that confidence and that belief. I think that's what separates him from the other people in his bracket.
Caleb Spears has been on a roll. Recently won the regional title. I think he has won 15 straight matches or something. Hasn't lost since the Midwest Classic. What are your expectations for him going into the national tournament?
Brown: When he's wrestling his match no one can beat Caleb. He can beat anyone when he's wrestling his game, dictating the tie, dictating the hand fight and staying in the position that he wants to be in. I don't think anyone can beat him. I expect him to be consistent just as he's been since National Duals. He's been very consistent in his individual work with Coach Blanton, in his approach to training and in his approach to competition, so that's our expectation. I know that if he's consistent in those things that the results will take care of themselves.
You finished 9-5 in dual meets this season. Placed fourth at the National Duals, which included wins over nationally ranked teams McKendree and Upper Iowa. Then obviously won the region title. How would you assess the season so far?
Brown: It's been full of ups and downs. I think we lost to two or three teams that we've never lost to in program history. Then we went out to National Duals unseeded and took fourth. Right after that we lost to Lander and lost our conference. So it's been a pogo stick of a year. A lot of ups and downs. But for it to all come together at regionals was great. I'm super proud of everyone.
You have spent a significant amount of time at Newberry College, first as an athlete and now as the head wrestling coach. What makes Newberry College a special?
Brown: I would say the tradition of success that we've had in our wrestling program. It garners a lot of support from alumni and from our community. It garners a lot of support from our administration, faculty and staff. People take a lot of pride in the success we have had. So when you get recruited to come to Newberry, those expectations and the standards are set very high from the beginning. I think that's what continues to propel us. We've finished as high as second in the country at the NCAA level, but we're also still chasing that No. 1. We haven't brought back the national championship title, so that's what we're still looking to do and we're working hard for it.
You grew up in South Carolina. Now you coach in South Carolina. What's the wrestling landscape like in South Carolina?
Brown: I'd say it's growing. When I was wrestling I definitely felt like it hit a point where it was pretty stagnant in terms of competition. If you wanted to get quality matches you needed to travel outside of the state. You needed to go up north or out west to get some high-quality competition as a high school student. You still need to do that now. But you see a lot of clubs popping up with high-quality coaches that wrestled in college. They're coming back and starting clubs now. I think that's really helping the state progress. We're not where we want to be. But at every year there are some high school seniors that we want here at Newberry. We want to keep that in-state talent in state. I'm definitely proud to be from South Carolina and be a South Carolina wrestler. I'm excited to see us keep going in the right direction.
What's your philosophy on recruiting? What time of kids do you look for? And there is a certain part of the country you focus on?
Brown: No particular area. Obviously, everybody knows the best wrestling is up north and out west in terms of depth. So we certainly always look out there. I look for someone who's driven intrinsically. Somebody who has the motivation from within to work hard, compete hard and live the right lifestyle. I can tell you to do those things as your coach, but if you don't want to do them or if that desire doesn't come from within, there's going to be huge gap in your goals and where you want to end up and where you actually end up. So I always look for guys who live the lifestyle. I can go to your social media, look on your story, look on your feed. I can see you're working out. I can learn things based on the content you post. That's a huge indicator for me. Also, we recruit kids who come from programs that are successful. They come from cultures of success. We just signed a kid from southeast Polk in Iowa and his team just won the traditional state championship. They compete for state championship titles out in Iowa every year. He was an Iowa state placer and comes from a program of winning and a culture of winning. I think when he comes here to Newberry he's going to be a leader.
You recently signed three-time undefeated Georgia state champion Austin Thiel. What do you like about him?
Brown: He's fun to watch. I like how much fun he has. You can tell when he's out there wrestling that he's enjoying it and having fun too. He's not afraid to open up and try big moves. He's not afraid to put himself in danger. As a wrestler, I was the complete opposite. I definitely would consider myself to be someone who steers more towards conservative wrestling, but he's out there trying all the big moves. He's not scared to put himself down in a match and then wrestle back to win. I think it's a huge indicator of his ability to win. The fact that he hasn't lost a match. 82-0. That's a huge winning streak. That's not to say that he's going to come in and not have any work to do, but just super excited about him and his passion for the sport. I'm excited about how much fun he has with it. He already has some relationships with some guys on the team. I think that's a part of what helped get him here too.
You spent time as head coach at King. They have a well-known women's wrestling program that has produced some of the country's biggest wrestling stars. Women's college wrestling is on the rise. Do you envision Newberry adding a women's wrestling program at some point?
Brown: There has been some discussion about it. We want to make sure if we do it that we do it right, that there's facilities, that there's support, that we have the right resources and that we're not just adding it to say we have women's wrestling. The administration has been very clear that if they add it, they want to make sure that we do it right so that we can jump into the game and start on the right foot. I'm excited about it because it is a growing sport. It will be awesome to have women's wrestling at Newberry.
One of your first moves when you became the head coach was to promote Bryant Blanton to association head coach. He was a national champion for Newberry. What does he bring to your program?
Brown: Oh man, the list is too long to really list off. He's awesome. He was a national champion. So from a recruiting perspective, when I think back to when I was looking to go somewhere out of high school, I wanted to go somewhere where I knew my coach had done what I wanted to do. Even just his name being associated with the program brings value to us and a significant value to us. The technical expertise he brings in the room is invaluable. He builds incredible relationships with our kids. They're always over at his house for a bonfire or to watch Harry Potter movies. He's a huge Harry Potter fan. So they bond a lot over that. He also thinks outside the box. Similar to my wrestling style I mentioned, I lean more towards the conservative side, he's very opposite and always thinking outside the box and challenging me to do so as well. So I like to think we complement each other.
You're bringing five wrestlers to the NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships. What are your expectations for the team in St. Louis?
Brown: The sky is the limit. That's cliche to say, but for us it really is true. Evan Carrigan had a win over a wrestler who was ranked No. 1 at the time at the National Duals. He beat him by a 13-2 major decision. So he has shown that he can compete with the best of the best. Isiah Royal being a national champ, we're hoping that he can he repeat. We kind of hit on Caleb Spears earlier. He's doing some of his best wrestling ever right now. So I fully expect to come back with four or five All-Americans. I think anything less than that would be disappointing. But we're not in a place where we're focusing necessarily on what we want to come back with as much as we're focusing on just making sure we're being consistent in how we train and our mental preparation, making sure our guys feel good and are ready to go. Because if they're in the right place mentally and feel good, the results will take care of themselves.