From jump shots to takedowns: Brucki finds a match with wrestling
Some athletes fall in love with their sports immediately. That wasn't the case for junior CJ Brucki.
“I played football — and basketball was my main sport,” Brucki said. “I didn’t start wrestling until my freshman year (of high school).”
Encouragement to start wrestling came from his younger brother Patrick. When wrestling for fun at home left CJ on the losing end between the two, he realized something wasn’t right.
“Patrick wrestled ever since he was little,” Brucki said. “Patrick would come home from practice and be like, 'Yo, let me show you this move I learned.' He’d start getting me in these moves and beat me and I thought, 'This isn’t how it should be, I should be beating him. I’m the older brother.'”
This motivation forced Brucki to make changes after the eighth grade, which led to a scholarship and a spot on the Central Michigan wrestling team.
“I gave up basketball to stay in shape for football as my secondary sport,” Brucki said. “I wound up doing a little better in wrestling than football so I stuck with it.”
Recruited by Northern Illinois, CMU and Wisconsin, the Orland Park, Illinois, native had options — but one match changed his life.
Former CMU assistant coach Jason Mester came to the Illinois state tournament to scout Hunter Rollins, who Brucki would face off against in the finals.
After that match, Brucki and Rollins kept in touch, opening the door to CMU.
“(Rollins) hit me up on Facebook and we chatted,” Brucki said. “(CMU) was one of the first Division I schools to recruit me. I took a visit and loved it. There were some guys from Illinois that I knew were coming here and I liked the environment. It just fit.”
Since then, Brucki has amassed more than 40 victories in his career as a Chippewa and is one of the leaders on the team this season.
He said wrestling behind former two-time All-American Mike Ottinger helped him get to where he is today.
“Mike was a big part of (me) getting better,” Brucki said. “He pushed me every day. It’s always good having a guy ranked as high as fifth in the country beating you every day. I was able to focus on the little things. Last year was an improvement year. Mike was a big part of that.”
Ottinger said his relationship with Brucki helped him develop as a wrestler as well.
“CJ is a competitor," he said. “He enjoys wrestling. I have a lot of respect for him. He pushed me last year. He was a big help.”
When he’s not on the mat or in the classroom, Brucki is what many people call a Netflix enthusiast.
“I’m a big Netflix fanatic,” Brucki said. “It’s what I do to wind down after a tough training day — to kick my feet up and relax."
As for recommendations Brucki was not hesitant to list a few shows.
“I just finished 'Shameless.' I also enjoy 'Californication,'" he said. “I also recommend 'Trailer Park Boys' for a great laugh if you enjoy dry humor, and great one-liners.”
The 174-pound Brucki said he is excited to be the man to lean on for this season, even though wins and losses aren’t fully on his mind.
"It's a whole different vibe on the team all the way through," he said. "We have guys pushing to score points, not necessarily looking to win or lose. It's more about scoring points and improving match to match. If you score points, the wining and losing will take care of itself."