Jones earns All-American wrestling honors

Robert Galbreath photo Senior Brandon Jones takes down his opponent from Pinedale at the Jan. 24 duel. Jones received the National Wrestling Coaches’ Association 2023 Character and Leadership All-America Award.

SUBLETTE COUNTY – Big Piney High School senior Brandon Jones received a surprise after he and his family returned home from the Puncher wrestling team’s annual end-of-season banquet on March 28.

Head Coach Cole Clifford texted the announcement that the National Wrestling Coaches’ Association had selected Jones as one of nine high-school wrestlers in Wyoming to earn the 2023 Character and Leadership All-America Award.

“I’m humbled and very honored and I’m still questioning, ‘How did I get this?’” Jones said on Saturday after a long day spent battling opponents at the FIRST Robotics Idaho Regional Competition in Boise.

Coaches from across Wyoming nominate athletes they believe embody the traits that define All-America wrestlers – dependability, judgement, endurance, initiative, tact, integrity, unselfishness, loyalty and courage – for the Character and Leadership Award. The award is sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps.

While the award caught Jones off guard, Coach Clifford was in no way surprised.

“Brandon is the hardest worker in our room and will be difficult to replace,” Clifford said. “Each and every day, he gave his all during his 4-year career. He pushed himself and his teammates to be better.”

Clifford praised Jones as a “quiet leader” who set the bar high for himself and his teammates.

“Brandon leads by example and holds himself to high standards on and off the mat,” Clifford added. “What is also impressive about Brandon is that he wanted to wrestle the best athletes in the state. He learned something from each and every match and worked to make himself better.”

Tenacity and direction

Jones finished his high school wrestling career by capturing third place in the 160-pound weight division at the 2023 2A Boys’ State Wrestling Championships in Casper on Feb. 24-25.

Jones pinned Dusty Cox, of Glenrock, with 31 seconds remaining in the quarterfinal match. Grappling an opponent into the third period takes plenty of mental and physical stamina and Jones excels at steadily wearing down his rival before finishing them off, sometimes late in the match.

“I like to drag my opponent out,” Jones said. “I want to get them to the third period because I will have the energy to finish.”

Progressing to the semifinals, Jones squared off against Thermopolis’ Roedy Farrell. Farrell stepped onto the mat with a nearly undefeated record, placing Jones in a position he relishes – that of the underdog.

Farrell ultimately won by fall late in the second period.

“I kind of shocked people in that match,” said Jones. “I lost, but it showed me where I stood when I wasn’t expecting it.”

Jones dropped into the consolation bracket. Refusing to throw in the towel, the senior battled his way back to the third-place match against Kemmerer’s Grason Kelley. Jones and Kelley entered the fray with similar records for the season. Jones completed the regular season posting 28 wins and Kelley tallied 31 wins.

“I never underestimate an opponent,” Jones said. “I always know they have a chance of beating me. I need to go into the match knowing that.”

Jones systematically broke down his rival. The first period ended in a draw. In the second period, Jones scored 2 points for a reversal and stalling, pulling into the lead.

Jones shifted into high gear in the third period. He earned 2 points for a takedown with 1:49 remaining on the clock and then secured a 3-point nearfall as the shot clock reached 30 seconds.

Jones defeated Kelley by a 7-1 decision to secure third place at State.

An exceptional career

Jones demonstrated marked growth each year he wrestled for the Punchers. As a freshman at State in 2020, Jones fell in the first match and dropped into the consolation rounds.

Buckling down his sophomore year, Jones secured fifth place at State in 2021. Returning to State as a junior in 2022, Jones snagged fourth place.

Jones tallied more than 100 wins over the course of his 4-year career with the Punchers, said Coach Clifford.

“Brandon took no shortcuts and became the success he is because of the work he put in to become the great young man that he is,” Clifford added. “Brandon enjoyed every minute of his wrestling career. He was a huge role model for our program.”

Jones’ reserved leadership style is defined by an unwavering drive to improve – not just personally, but as a team.

“A good leader wants to do well and works to help those around you do well,” Jones said.

As a senior, Jones took younger athletes under his wing, modeling success, determination, sportsmanship and “doing the right thing” through his actions.

“The vocal leaders always lead by example before they step up and become vocal,” Jones said.

Jones’ exceptional work ethic is grounded in the belief that accomplishment is the sum of all the blood, sweat and tears poured into an endeavor.

“I just always did what needed to be done,” Jones said. “I’ve also been taught a lot about work by my mother.”

In addition to wrestling, Jones played Puncher football all four years of high school, serving as wide receiver and corner on the varsity lineup his senior year. Jones is gearing up for his fourth season on the Big Piney outdoor track team, where he competes in long-distance running and pole vaulting.

Jones is a member of the National Honor Society. He is an active member of the local 4-H program and participates on the Puncher Robotics Team. Jones played French horn in band, sings in choir and represented Big Piney in the TEAMS (Tests of Engineering, Aptitude, Mathematics and Science) competitions.

In recent years, Jones achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.

After high school, Jones plans on serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He was accepted into Weber State University and is interested in pursuing a career in computer science, specializing in programming and writing code.

Jones expressed gratitude to his mother, Coach Clifford and head football coach Jeromy Moffat for “helping me develop the character traits” for success.

“As a coach, I could not ask for a better athlete in the room,” said Clifford. “I never had to get on Brandon for not working. Brandon pushed himself to be the best each and every day. But most of all, he held himself to a high standard and made all those around him better.”