A “Baby” Giant
Bannister Looks to Translate Success to College Levelby Liam Farrell | photo by John T. Consoli
In the case of Alfred J. Bannister III, the superb wrestling nickname of “Baby J” came long before the superb wrestling. It was simply a way to differentiate him from his father.
“(My family) never called me Alfred, even when I was in trouble,” he says. (In elementary school, he wouldn’t even answer to his real first name.)
Whatever you call Bannister, however, you definitely have to call him a success, as the sophomore is the winningest wrestler in Maryland high school history and poised to become the next breakout star for the UMD wrestling program.
A compact 141-pounder who turns a cartwheel as effortlessly as he jogs around a room, Bannister began wrestling at age 5 under the tutelage of his father, A.J., a former high school wrestler and football player, and older brother, Andrew, who wrestles for Notre Dame College of Ohio. After winning national tournament victories in middle school, Bannister starred at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Md., finishing with 272 victories and four state titles.
“Every accomplishment is pressure,” says Bannister of his pedigree. “I like it. I love having it.”
Keeping Bannister in state for college was “huge” for the program, says Coach Kerry McCoy. Maryland has accomplished plenty during his nearly eight-year tenure, including three ACC titles and seven Terps earning 11 All-American honors, but the leap to the Big Ten Conference last year led to some growing pains.
“The biggest obstacle we have is tradition,” McCoy says of competing against storied programs like Iowa and Penn State. “Every match, every week, you’re going to be looking at someone ranked top-25 in the country.”
And becoming one of the best teams in the conference—and the entire NCAA—will depend in part on making sure elite talent like Bannister stays home.
“Our goal has always been to win a national championship,” McCoy says. “The cherry on top is winning a national championship with a lot of kids from Maryland.”
Behind more experienced collegiate wrestlers as a freshman, Bannister was held out of team competitions for a redshirt year but compiled a 37–4 record as an individual in open tournaments. As of Jan. 13 this year, his record stood at 7–5.
He says being immersed in a group of Division I wrestlers has helped him acclimate to the challenges of college, from embracing the increased competitiveness to resisting the weight-gaining lure of 3 a.m. pizza.
“This is the big leagues,” he says. “It’s all on you. You lose, it’s on your shoulders. You win, it’s on your shoulders.”
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