Starkey brothers bring stability to Bulldog wrestling
By Jake Knabel, Sports Information Director
With the first season in the history of Concordia wrestling getting underway in 2009, the program needed solid competitors who could pave the way for future success. Enter Brandon Starkey, an accomplished high school grappler from St. Paul, Neb. With him, Starkey brought a family background that emphasized the sport from an early age.
Three years later, that connection sent younger brother Austin to the program. Both arrived at Concordia, products of the teaching of their father Mark, a longtime youth and high school coach in St. Paul, located about 90 miles to the northwest of Seward.
“I really wanted what was best for him, but I kind of tried to push this as far as I could and get him to come here,” Brandon said of his brother’s recruitment.
Both got their start in wrestling at three or four years of age, schooled in the fundamentals by their biggest influence in the sport – their father. They went after each other in the confines of the household much like any young brothers. Of course the older, bigger brother always had the upper hand.
Austin learned in part by observing Brandon at area tournaments. Both became hooked on wrestling, well-versed on its many intricacies as a passion for the sport brewed almost from their first breaths.
“I started really early with my dad being a youth head coach,” Austin said. “I started out there and would always go watch Brandon wrestle, so I was just kind of born into it.”
Both Starkeys will enter Saturday’s North Qualifying Group Tournament in Fremont, Neb., hoping to make a splash on the mat. Brandon, ranked No. 6 in the North at 157, has qualified for nationals in each of his first three seasons and carries school records for wins (70), matches wrestled (128) and tournament place finishes (12). Austin has gone 14-15 in his first collegiate season. Both will compete at 157 pounds on Saturday.
Brandon, known for his hard work in the practice room, continues to provide a strong example for Austin and the rest of the team as it focuses on its most important part of the schedule. The senior’s experience within the program and consistent effort have been critical for head coach Dana Vote as he builds up Bulldog wrestling.
“He’s a great guy to have on the team being a first year coach,” Vote said. “He’s a guy who has an outstanding work ethic and great leadership. He brings a lot to the table. You know with Brandon he’s going to give total effort every day.”
Austin says that his brother’s work ethic is one of the most important things he’s tried to pick up on.
“He always makes myself work and pushes me hard,” Austin said. “It’s never something I’ve enjoyed doing so it’s really been helpful. He’s also taught me to not ever quit, just keep fighting through it all.”
The quality time in the practice room has allowed both to compete with top opponents throughout this season. Austin enjoyed a major breakthrough in his first career bout in a dual meet when he upset then No. 4-ranked Robert Eklund of York (6-4) at 157 on Nov. 29. Brandon went up a weight to 165 on Jan. 17 and nearly recorded a major decision (13-6) when he defeated seventh-ranked Zach Fishman of Northwestern.
These great moments in the 2012-13 season surely had the entire Starkey family pulsating with pride. The Starkeys, including Mark and his wife Brenda, are some of the most ardent supporters of Bulldog wrestling. As Vote put it, “You can always count on the whole family being at every meet.”
This support has been a key to the development of Austin and Brandon, both athletically and as human beings. Brandon credits his father for always being available to help him get the most out of his talents.
“He’s always there to help me out and listen to me,” Brandon said. “If I ever need anything extra after practice he was always willing to work with me and help me with any problems I had.”
The siblings also work together to make advancements in each other’s wrestling careers. They talk after meets about things that went well and things that need to be worked on. During practice they sometimes spar against each other, providing a chance for an intense brother rivalry to bud even more.
“It gets pretty heated,” Austin says of their bouts in practice. “We understand it’s going to get that way. After practice we just kind of let it go and leave it be.”
That fiery competition yields a deeper admiration among them. So much so that Brandon, his career nearing an end, is rooting for Austin to put forth an even more impressive run in the Bulldog singlet.
“It’s kind of the same thing like when I was a senior in high school,” Brandon said. “Everybody asked me, ‘Is he going to break your records?’ Records are meant to be broken. If someone is going to break them, it might as well be my brother. I hope he outdoes me here.”
If Austin progresses the way Vote believes possible, Brandon may get his wish.
“I think the sky’s the limit for Austin,” Vote said. “He’s got a lot of potential. He’s got a good feel for wrestling. I think being an All-American is not out of reach for him.”
Brandon will soon move on from Concordia and hopes to put his exercise science degree to use at chiropractic school in either St. Louis or Kansas City, while keeping wrestling close to his life.
Even with Brandon’s departure after this season and even after Austin finishes his career in 2016, the Starkey legacy will endure. The two have served as bright spots for a program working its way toward greatness while still in its infancy.
14 February 2013