Owatonna’s Brandon Moen, right, recently committed to wrestle at Division I Eastern Michigan. The reigning 195-pound state champion is currently re-habbing a knee injury suffered in the offseason. (Jon Weisbrod/People’s Press)

In late February, Brandon Moen was perhaps the most highly sought-after uncommitted wrestling recruit in the entire state. The 195-pound Owatonna junior had just defeated Moorhead’s Samuel Grove to capture the Class AAA state championship and big time colleges started calling.

Moen had heard from Division III programs for years, but after a spectacular 2015-16 campaign, in which he finished 46-2, he started gaining serious interest from essentially every Division II program in the state and was on the short list of several Division I teams as well, including the University of Minnesota.

“The recruiting process was interesting because there was a bunch of people contacting me,” Moen said. “There was a lot of D-III and D-II schools, but that wasn’t really my goal.”

Moen’s plan since his decorated youth career and outstanding first four years of high school was to wrestle at the Division I level. He had always dreamed of committing to the Gophers, and seven short months ago, that dream looked like it was going to become a reality.

But then came the “snap.”

Attending the junior national tournament as the No. 1 seed in his weight class in Virginia Beach, Virginia in April, Moen battled through the first six or seven matches and was on his way up the ranks in the wrestle-backs when his knee violently bent the wrong way. He knew almost instantly that something was seriously wrong, but somehow mustered the strength to finish the match.

“It snapped and I just knew something was messed up,” Moen said. “I couldn’t be as agile and I knew something was wrong. After the match I went to trainers and they did tests and thought it was ACL (tear) right away. I went back home and found out it tore in three spots.”

Immediately following the injury, the last thing on Moen’s mind was college. But following a successful surgery and a first few weeks of rehab, he quickly discovered that many of the big-name Division I programs that had displayed interest started to back off — except one.

Eastern Michigan, which was one of the first Division I schools to contact Moen before the injury, stood strong with its scholarship offer. In fact, the university flew Moen to the campus in Ypsilanti just outside Ann Arbor, took him to an EMU football game and even increased the total scholarship offer.

“I liked it,” Moen said. “I really liked the size of the campus because it wasn’t too huge and everything is just close together. During the visit, they upped the offer as an incentive and basically told me I was their top (prospect) for the class. I liked the atmosphere and thought about it for a week and decided to commit."

Moen, who values education and is one of the top 10 students in his class of almost 350, was also impressed with EMU’s strong academic standing within the wrestling program. Over the last couple of years, Eastern has ranked higher than some Ivy League schools in terms of overall GPA of its student-athletes.

“I knew I could get a good education,” Moen said. “That’s important because I know I’m not going to wrestle for the rest of my life. It’s going to be good to be around a program with such high character and strong values.”

As for his rehabilitation, Moen says he’s on schedule to hit the mat in mid-to-late-December for the Huskies and plans on returning 100 percent healthy to defend his state championship in February.

“I’m know I have some time, so I’m just taking it slow and following the protocal from the doctors,” Moen said. “It’s just going to be motivation to hopefully win another title.”

Reach sports reporter Jon Weisbrod at 444-2375, or follow him on @OPPJonW

Award-winning Sports Editor for the Owatonna People's Press, Weisbrod has worked in daily newspapers his entire career. He writes a regular column called Beyond the Box that delves into local, regional and national sports storylines.

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