It was the weekend that changed C.J. Brucki’s life.
When Brucki entered Sandburg High School, he considered himself a football player who wanted to try wrestling on the side.
This past Valentine’s Day, he wrestled in the state wrestling tournament for the first time in his career and at that point in time, senior figured he would be a football player and wrestler at a Division III college in the future.
He said he was ranked sixth in the 160-pound division in Class 3A and given his lack of state tournament experience, he didn’t appear to be on many people’s radar screen as a potential champion.
But when he knocked off previously unbeaten Davonte Mahomes of Oak Park River Forest, 9-4, in the quarterfinals his confidence soared. He went on to defeat Brother Rice’s Nuntreae Jackson, 8-6, in the semifinals and Hersey’s Hunter Rollins, 12-6 in the state championship match.
“Right after the last second, I put my head in my hands and I couldn’t believe it,” Brucki said. “It was so emotional. It was such a rush and unreal. It never hit me until I saw my family said ‘I really did this.’ It was so overwhelming and I was so overjoyed for me, the Sandburg program and my family. I couldn’t believe it.”
Colleges started taking more notice and he signed with Division I Central Michigan shortly after winning the state crown. He spent a good chunk of his summer on campus taking classes and working out with the team. While he said he will miss football, he said his focus is on wrestling now.
“It used to be all football for me,” he said. “It was my main sport for sure. It never really changed until the state tournament. After that weekend, I received calls from DI schools that were interested in me. I found the one that was the right fit. I have the opportunity to get a great education and get to wrestle and train to get in the best shape of my life.”
His confidence soared after the win over Mahomes.
“I faced him three times and lost to him three times but I got closer and closer,” Brucki said. “I felt it was my time to beat him and I took it. Then I won my semifinals match and I was in the Grand March. That was one of the greatest moments of my life.
“Honestly, my goal the whole year was just to qualify for state,” Brucki added. “But once I started to beat kids who were ranked high, I had a goal to make the podium. Once I got down there, it was a great feeling. I watched the tournament for three years but wasn’t in it. Now I was in it and I took it one match at a time.”
Brucki said he’s always been an underdog because he started wrestling so late in his career.
“Most kids start very young,” he said. “They have many years of experience before high school. For me I picked it up my freshman year. It was something I did to stay in shape for football.
“I wasn’t technically sound,” he added. “I had athleticism so I ran with that and just took everything the coaches told me to try to get better. I just kind of blew up my senior year.”
He also helped Sandburg in the Class 3A team title.
Brucki’s new CMU team also enjoyed success last season, going 5-0 in the Mid-American Conference and 17-3 overall in dual meets.