A year ago at this time, Nature Coast Technical's senior-to-be Brandon Vovan was attempting to carve out a niche in the crowded state wrestling landscape.
A year later, its mission accomplished.
The recent NCT graduate not only developed an identity along the North Suncoast, but cradled a gold medal atop the podium at the 49th FHSAA Finals at the Jenkins Arena in Lakeland.
While the chiseled 6-foot-1, 171-pounder became the 42nd state champion to hail from Hernando County, he rode a tremendous four-year effort to recently sign a national letter of intent to wrestle at Division II Newberry College in Newberry, S.C.
The youngest of four children to Thuoc and Lora Vovan, Brandon was born and raised in Spring Hill.
After a stellar senior mat campaign where Vovan captured 45 wins in 50 bouts (90 percent), featuring a personal-high tying 23 pins, he pared his choice to college to Newberry and Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.
His visit to Wolves' campus, helped sway his decision.
"I'm used to a small-town feel and it was real nice at Newberry," recalled the 18-year-old Vovan. "Coach gave me a tour and the campus was actually smaller than I expected. I got to see the training room and wrestling room. Honestly, after meeting some of the other wrestlers I felt like I was little boy shaking hands with grown men."
On the coach speak, "Coach was real open with me. He told me the way it is," explained Vovan, who finished his prep mat career at 95-46 (67.4 percent), featuring career 54 pins. "He wasn't intimidating; he was very open."
Vovan added that since former teammate Greg Jarque III was already on the mat team, that would help his transition to a new environment.
Pressed for an opinion, NCT assistant coach Greg Jarque believed Vovan was making the correct decision to also attend Newberry.
"I really didn't need much plodding," insisted Vovan. "I trust coach and I thought he had my back all the way. Having a buddy there (Greg III) makes it much easier."
Vovan graduated with a 3.45 grade point average in the Culinary Arts cluster. His favorite class was Advanced Placement Environmental.
Though his major is undecided, he's leaning toward a career path in science.
Vovan's athletic roots are diverse.
At 10 years old, he began playing recreation baseball as a shortstop for the Spring Hill YMCA. He played ball for two seasons.
He's also been a competitive paintball player for 10 years. At one point he was participating in tournaments "every other week."
To make it more enjoyable he's played for paintball teams called the Justice League, Team Elite and JXS.
Vovan did not play any sports in middle school when he attended the local Gulf Coast Academy.
To stay active, Vovan took up taekwondo for three years.
Upon matriculating to the California Street campus of NCT, he decided to branch out.
Initially, he played JV football as a freshman and made one tackle - behind the line - in his only play at the varsity level. He quit football shortly thereafter.
He wrestled for the Sharks under skipper Mike Lastra for four seasons and swam for two years - to improve his endurance - as a junior and a senior (50- and 100-yard freestyle, and 200- and 400-yard relays).
"Though I've played a lot of different sports my favorite is wrestling," declared Vovan. "You get exactly what you put in. If you win, you get all the glory; if you lose, it's all only you - there's no one else to blame."
One of the facets he relishes is the physicality of the sport.
"I like the physical part of wrestling," stressed Vovan. "You can't hide when you're in the circle. More than anything, it's an honest sport. You can't get angry; no matter what happens you have to keep yourself accountable at all times."
During his first three seasons on the mat, Vovan failed to capture one IBT (individually bracketed tournament), but that all changed as a senior when he captured 5-of-6 - including districts, regionals and states without a loss.
"Looking back, I wouldn't have changed a thing," said Vovan. "Wrestling allowed me to join a new family - guys that I'll call friends for life."
On his biggest improvement, "Technically-speaking arrived during the summer before my junior year. A light bulb kind of went off in my head. It was like, 'This is how you're supposed to wrestle.'
"The execution part arrived during my senior year," noted Vovan. "I started to get a lot more aggressive and with every win, my confidence continued to rise."
Vovan was quick to thank a couple of teammates for pushing him to new heights.
"I give a lot of credit to Carter (Bolesta). He influenced me in many ways. I really tried to wrestle like him," detailed Vovan. "We wrestled so many times in practice that we kept pushing each other.
"And my practice partner for most of the year was Dylan (Savoury). He's just a horse," said Vovan. "He's big and strong and hard to move. Well, when I got to the state finals and met (Lehigh Acres') Jabari (Irons) - he's a Savoury clone. Wrestling against Dylan definitely prepared me well for guys like Jabari."
Before driving over eight hours and covering 500 miles to report to Newberry on Aug. 15, Vovan explained some of the possible obstacles in his path to success at the next level.
"I know college (wrestling) will be much, much tougher," he said. "I've got to keep my grades up first. I can't lie, I'm going to miss home, but it's time to start making decisions for myself.
"I have to thank Coach Jarque for this opportunity, he's always looked out for me," added Vovan. "He's always treated me like a son, like a member of his family."
On his future focus, "Being a state champ (in high school) means nothing in college," emphasized Vovan. "I'm starting fresh with a bunch of new teammates and classmates. I have to continue to hold myself accountable and find my own path. There's no room for shortcuts; I will not take this (opportunity) for granted."
By the numbers: NCT's Brandon Vovan (2009-13)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YEAR W L .PCT PINS
2009-10 0 2 .000 0
2010-11 13 18 .419 8
2011-12 37 21 .638 23
2012-13$^ 45 5 .900 23
TOTALS 95 46 .674 54
^ Hernando Today Co-Wrestler of the Year
$ Denotes state champion
By the numbers: NCT's Brandon Vovan IBT Results (2009-13)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YEAR EVENT W L .PCT PINS PL
2009-10 20th Springstead Inv. 0 2 .000 0 -
2010-11 29th Kiwanis Inv. 2 2 .500 2 -
2010-11 21st Springstead Inv. 0 2 .000 0 -
2010-11 1A-8 Tourney 2 2 .500 2 4th
2010-11 1A-II Tourney 0 2 .000 0 -
2011-12 6th Ocala-Forest Inv. 2 1 .667 2 2nd
2011-12 30th Kiwanis Inv. 3 2 .600 2 4th
2011-12 Zac Jarzynka Inv. 3 2 .600 1 -
2011-12 22nd Springstead Inv. 3 2 .600 1 4th
2011-12 Citrus Inv. 3 1 .750 1 3rd
2011-12 2A-7 Tourney 1 2 .333 1 4th
2011-12 2A-II Tourney 2 2 .500 1 -
2012-13 31st Kiwanis Inv, 5 0 1.000 3 1st
2012-13 Lakeland Classic 3 0 1.000 1 1st
2012-13 23rd Springstead Inv. 3 1 .750 1 3rd
2012-13 2A-7 Tourney 2 0 1.000 1 1st
2012-13 2A-II Tourney 4 0 1.000 3 1st
2012-13 2A State Finals 4 0 1.000 1 1st
TOTALS -18- 42 23 .646 23