In the breakfast-meat wars that have captured the attention of much of regional wrestling of late, Brandon Paetzell knows exactly where he stands.

“It’s pork roll, not Taylor Ham,” said the Lehigh University wrestler and Phillipsburg High School graduate. “Taylor Pork Roll.”

Paetzell may know the proper term for the savory local favorite – he is right, of course – but he may not get to eat much of it this offseason as he attempts to move from the 133 pounds he competed at last season to 125 pounds for his junior season.

“I didn’t cut much weight at 133,” said Paetzell, who went 15-13 as a Mountain Hawks sophomore, finished third in the EIWAs and was an NCAA qualifier. “I could easily make that weight. That being said, I will be going down eight or nine pounds.”

At least. Maybe there has been too much pork roll?

“I have been eating a lot in the offseason,” Paetzell said. “I am getting pretty big.”

But Paetzell has a path to getting back down.

“I think a lot of it is basic nutrition 101,” he said. “I am focusing on eating a lot of protein, drinking more water. You need carbohydrates to maintain performances, but I am eating smaller portions of them, like maybe a cup of rice. I am trying to eat the right kind of fats, like avocados, eggs, and nuts.”

It’s one thing to know what to eat, and another, of course, to actually do it.

“The hardest part is starting, that first week,” Paetzell said. “I’d been inconsistent before that, but now I am starting to get more in the swing of things. We go out to the diner and I’m still disciplined, eating salads, chicken, healthier things. Not like going to Olive Garden and getting chicken alfredo – my diet goes out the window just with the breadsticks.”

The Stateliners graduate, a two-time NJSIAA runner-up who started his college career at Rutgers, isn’t cutting out breadsticks for the heck of it. He figures to be much stronger wrestler at 125 than at 133.

“Most of my losses came on the mat, and that’s an area of focus for me,” Paetzell said. “I think I am pretty competitive with the best guys in the country on my feet. I’d get in on a couple of shots, get a takedown and try and ride but get turned. Technical aspects (of wrestling on the mat) are one thing, but if I can go into the season at 125, I think I can do big things. Assuming I can handle my weight well and do all the right things, I’ll be a lot stronger and not be turned as easily. I’ll have a lot more horsepower.”

It’s not just about defense, either, for the Lopatcong Township resident.

“Riding time is good, but it’s not just about riding time,” Paetzell said. “If you get a four-point (nearfall) it is almost impossible to lose just giving up takedowns. I need a good turn.”

Paetzell can focus on his wrestling at Lehigh because he’s gotten the other aspects of collegiate life down. He’s had a GPA over 3.0 for all but his first semester, and indeed was honored with an EIWA Academic Achievement Award.

“Especially the second semester, you’re grinding every day,” he said.

He’s also figured an effective rhythm of daily life, no small thing when the demands of schoolwork, training, weights, sleep, meals and the daily tasks can often add up to more than 24 hours for many days, even without time to relax or have fun. A before-lunch down period, Paetzell said, really helps set up his day well. And he knows how critical hitting the pillow is as well as hitting the books.

“Getting enough sleep is really important,” Paetzell said.

Paetzell appears ready to hit his junior season, then, in fine form after a sophomore campaign that exceeded expectations.

“I was supposed to be a backup, and people didn’t expect me to start, because we had two All-Americans (Scott Parker and Connor Schram) but there were some injuries and I think I surprised some people in qualifying for nationals.”

Paetzell went 0-2 in Pittsburgh, but said the experience was everything he thought it might be – eventually,

“I had been to the NCAAs in St. Louis, New York and Philadelphia as a spectator and a fan, and that was exciting but it’s different being on the mat,” he said. “I expected to be super fired-up before my first match but, to tell you the truth, it felt like another open tournament. But once the match started (against Austin Gomez of Iowa State) and he hit a roll on me, and I hit a roll on him, and I heard the crowd getting into it, that was pretty awesome. That was when it really sunk in.”

Paetzell may not have become an All-American, but during the season he beat two of them: Montorie Bridges of Wyoming (eighth in 2018) and John Erneste of Missouri (sixth in 2019). So, he knows he can wrestle at that level.

“Beating Bridges (early in the season) reassured me that everything I was telling myself – that I could compete with the top guys – was right,” Paetzell said. “And Erneste was a big win.”

More such big wins could put Paetzell where he wants to be as a junior, but he knows there’s a proper path to follow.

“You can’t get ahead of yourself,” he said. “You can’t get too high after a win or too low after a loss. You have to stay level-headed and focus on the next thing you have to do.”

Paetzell knows he can achieve even the loftiest of goals – one of which would be becoming Phillipsburg’s second Division I All-American – if he does all the right things.

“I totally believe in myself and how good a wrestler I am,” he said. “I am good enough to get on the (NCAA) podium. It didn’t happen this year, but I know I am capable of being of that quality.”

Brad Wilson may be reached at bwilson@lehighvalleylive.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.

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