Diamond BarHigh School

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Ryu Exceeding All Expectations

By Pete Marshall, Inland Valley Bulletin Staff Writer

DIAMOND BAR - Diamond Bar High School junior heavyweight Brian Ryu wasn't supposed to win the CIF-SS Eastern Division title two weeks ago.

But he did.

Then, when he advanced to the CIF-SS Masters Meet he wasn't expected to finish in the top five.

But he did.

Now, while competing at the CIF State Championships that begin today at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield, Ryu (pronounced ROO) isn't expected to place among the top eight.

But don't count him out.

Ryu has a secret weapon on his side - the memory of his late friend and teammate Brandon Riley.

"It feels good to be going to state," Ryu said earlier this week. "I've accomplished something while dedicating this season to my friend who passed away - Brandon Riley."

Riley passed away last Sept. 11 due to spinal meningitis, a few months before he would have wrestled his junior season in the 112-pound weight class.

Teammates placed Riley's letterman's jacket on the chair he would have sat in during dual meet matches. Brahmas frequently looked or pointed to the sky after winning match. His memory strengthened a team that nearly won the Sierra League title and had a solid season few expected.

Ryu especially won't forget Riley, who believed Ryu would one day make it to state, even when Ryu didn't.

"I want to bring honor to him," Ryu said. "Now he'd probably tell me, `I knew you'd make it.' He definitely gives me a lot of strength."

"I was skeptical (about state). I thought state was beyond me."

Clearly, it wasn't beyond him, but Ryu is not one of those wrestlers who had success immediately.

Thrown into the unenviable task of wrestling on the varsity at heavyweight as a freshman who had no previous wrestling experience, Ryu went 4-16 two years ago.

"He earned it (being on varsity), but that's tough," Diamond Bar coach Scott Usher said.

As a sophomore, he improved by leaps and bounds, to a 26-12 record and a CIF appearance.

"I didn't feel a difference in how I was wrestling, just that I had more success," Ryu said comparing his freshman and sophomore seasons.

There's been another big jump this year.

"I saw something in his first match at CIF, and he beat the No. 3 seed," Usher said. "Then he beat the No. 6 and the No. 2 seed. His first match, he showed he could compete with the best."

Ryu still isn't imposing. He's not the biggest heavyweight - he weighs about 250 pounds when the upper limit is 287, and he's not the tallest either.

"I think for my weight, my speed is exceptional," Ryu said. "My job is just to put pressure on them."

Another job Ryu has is to support his teammates. Although he enjoys being a leader, there's one thing that's equally important to him - he's not going to ask anyone to do something he's not willing to do.

But, he's willing to do more because of his friend.

"He knew how to be a best friend," Ryu said. "We talked a lot about life."

Ryu makes sure his friend isn't forgotten. When he gets on the award stand after a tournament, Ryu wears a T-shirt with Riley's picture, one of the many that were sold around school to raise money for Riley's family.

Ryu proudly points to his chest as dozens of cameras click away.

"Him believing in me, helped me," Ryu said. "But it took a long time to get over it (Riley's death). He wanted me to go to state. He wanted this for me."

Surely, if Riley were here, he'd be happy for his friend. But he'd be encouraging him to do even more.

pete.marshall@inlandnewspapers.com
909-483-9364