It was just two months ago when Brandon Ballard made the decision to return to the wrestling mat and once again compete in a sport that brought him so much success. Before that you could find him at Glenelg Country School coaching its varsity wrestling team, and had you asked him about competing again, he may have told you he was done. However, deep down, he knew he had more to contribute to a program and his impact has already been felt by the York College Wrestling team.
Ballard's path to York was not a traditional one to say the least, but it may have been destined from the start. In fact, York College was the first that Ballard visited as a high school senior back in 2012, a year that he captured a Maryland state title at 195 pounds. However, during that time, Ballard decided to take his talents elsewhere and ended up committing to wrestle at Division I South Dakota State University for coach Chris Bono. After spending a year as a starter in the Jack Rabbit program, he decided it was in his best interest to move on and start fresh at Labette Community College in Kansas, where he competed for the 2014-2015 season and climbed all the way up to a No. 3 individual national ranking for all junior college wrestlers in his weight class.
"I loved South Dakota State, but the climate just wasn't for me," said Ballard. "I needed somewhere warmer. I had to get a change of scenery."
However, at the conclusion of the 2014-2015 season, Ballard left Labette and decided to step away from the sport he had once loved so much.
"I know what it's like to be mentally checked out," said Ballard. "If you would've asked me then, I would have told you my [wrestling] career was over. You kind of just hit a point where you don't know if you can continue, especially after all of the moving around between colleges that I did."
Even with all this adversity in his past, Ballard has found his way back and already made his presence felt with his new squad.
"York was the first school to show interest in me in high school so I already knew a little about the school," said Ballard. "It was the first school I ever visited, its close enough to home that I can still continue my life there and compete again in college athletics. The choice to come here just made sense to me for a lot of reasons."
And that choice has been smart indeed, as he was able to almost instantly solidify himself as York's starter and provide the team with an upgrade they desperately needed at a weight class that had been made paper thin due to injuries and transfers. Even though he has only competed for half a season, he has already been able to put together a winning record, beat nationally ranked opponents, and cross off a personal goal, which was to qualify for the national tournament.
"I'm just grateful for a second chance, I'm enjoying my time here," said Ballard. "I know in the past I haven't always made the best decisions and I'm willing to admit that and grow from them. I really am thankful for the chance to compete again."
Ballard's coaches and teammates have already recognized his accomplishments and what he brings to the team. He's in good hands too, as he is now under the direction of head coach Duane Bastress who was a two-time national champion at York College back in 2005 and 2006.
When asked about Ballard, Bastress said: "Based off of his credentials I knew he could be successful here, he brings experience, knowledge of the sport, and a high level of talent. I fully expect him to All-American and make a name for himself on the national stage."
But has Ballard fully bought into the York College program and what they stand for? Well, Bastress certainly seems to believe so.
"Whenever you have a new guy transfer in, especially given his age and background, you always worry about a one and done situation," said Bastress. "But I've seen him just over these past couple of weeks really start to mesh with the guys and buy into our culture.
Ballard's teammate and four-time national qualifier Greg Warner also had high praise for him and his impact from a team perspective.
"He brings Division I success and provides the younger guys with a role model, or someone to look up to," said Warner. "Just this semester we've been given a glimpse of just how special he can be. With a full year of training and preparation under his belt there's no telling what he could do."
Ballard recognizes his past and believes that it has made him into the person he is today, and even though has path has not been traditional it sure seems that he wouldn't take it back
"Being able to go from athlete to coach to athlete again has been really valuable," said Ballard. "I want to teach the other guys from my past decisions, I can help them and help myself at same time. The thing I've found out is that these lessons you learn end up going full circle."
Ballard's main focus now is to build off of his first year success with the program and add himself to the York College record books forever. He's certainly already proven his ability by claiming a third-place finish in the 2019 NCAA Southeast Regional Tournament and in the process, knocking off the No. 6 ranked wrestler in the country. He will look to improve his resume even more in the coming season as he hopes to repeat what he already did in half a season by qualifying for nationals and looking to finally claim the All-American honors he and his teammates know he's capable of getting.
Written by: Julian Albero