Published March 15, 2005
By Michael Mirer/Enterprise staff writer
It's in the nearly imperceptible drop of the shoulder or the crouch that leaves just enough leg exposed.
Derek Moore and Brandon Bear have been to nationals before and know that the margin between the good wrestlers and the All-Americans is small.
It's the same with their military work, whether it's presenting themselves in uniform or participating in hands-on training in the field. The margins are small and details matter.
"For the military it's knowing how you should be paying attention to things, to learn how to be a leader," Moore said. "In wrestling it's about knowing when to take your shots."
Bear and Moore are members of the Reserve Officers Training Corps at UC Davis. They will also be among the four Aggie wrestlers who take to the mats at the Division I national championship this week in St. Louis. They will be joined by first-timers Ronnie Silva (174 pounds) and Jeff Bristol (141).
Moore and Bear are essentially walk-ons in the UCD program, receiving much of their scholarship money from the ROTC program, rather than athletics. When they leave school they will serve four years of active duty in the Army and then four more in the reserves.
That's no small commitment in an uncertain world.
But both wrestlers have a tradition of military service in their families. And each said he joined to combine what seemed like an interesting career with the chance to have their educations paid for.
"I'm all about new experiences, and this was something that would be interesting," Moore said.
Moore, a Redding-native, passed up scholarship offers from further away to walk on closer to home. But that also meant he needed to find a way to pay his tuition at UCD. His brother and his grandfather both served in the Air Force, so the military was something he had been considering anyway.
"I knew it was free money," Moore said. "It was four years rather than paying off student loans for the next 20 years. And anyway, what's harder than wrestling practice."
Bear's story is similar. Lightly recruited out of Modesto Junior College, he followed his roommate to UCD and looked to walk on to the team. He and his family visited campus and began looking for ways to pay for college.
Bear's interest in the military grew from days in front of the History Channel, watching stories of long-ago conflicts.
"I wanted to do something different," Bear said. "I never really wanted to sit behind a desk."
During the wrestling season, Moore and Bear spend about three hours per week doing ROTC training.
"It's all about work ethic and teamwork," UCD coach Lennie Zalesky said of ROTC. "It has to do with a regimented life and some of that carries over into what we do."
Out of season that commitment increased to about nine hours per week. They also have to take one class per quarter in the military sciences. When they are finished with school they will be commissioned into the army as officers, before heading off to training.
Moore and Bear return to St. Louis nationally ranked in their weight classes. Moore is 15th in the nation at 133 pounds and has been one of UCD's top performer all year. As a freshman last season he missed becoming an All-American (finishing in the top eight) by a single point.
Moore was tied at the end his bout, but lost by a point because his opponent had 1 minutes, 5 seconds of match control. A wrestler gets one point for having more than one minute of control.
"I've been waiting for this moment," Moore said. "That one match, I've been going over it my head since it happened. Now it's six days away."
Bear (184) went 0-2 at nationals last season and pronounced himself unhappy with his performance. This year he's riding a wave of confidence dating to his Jan. 9 win over second-ranked Paul Bradley of Iowa.
"That win really opened my eyes a bit and helped me realize that I can compete," Bear said. "I knew I was wrestling well but that match really opened my eyes."
And with three others first-timers heading to nationals Bear and Moore are the old pros. The advice they'll give to the others is to just relax.
"Stay calm," Bear said. "Everybody has beaten some good guys this year. This not going to be any different."
- Reach Michael Mirer at email@example.com