It seems only fitting that Justin Braun was a wrestler before he turned his focus to track and field.
The Westerville Central senior has had a literal stranglehold on the sprints in Ohio over the past 3 years, developing from a state champion as a freshman into one of the most sought-after recruits nationally in the Class of 2022. MileSplit's No. 3 athlete ended his recruiting journey earlier today, committing via Instagram to the University of Southern California to give the Trojans another potential NCAA sprint standout.
"I'm done, I'm so tired," Braun said in sizing up the recruiting process. "Traveling is so hard. I did my visits like back to back to back. The only reason I didn't take more (official visits) is that I got horribly sick after (a visit). I think it's just because traveling is so hard."
In addition to Southern Cal, Braun took official visits to Georgia and the University of Miami. His top five schools also included Ohio State and Boston University.
Although Braun noted that coach Caryl Smith Gilbert leaving USC this summer to lead Georgia's program had him "open (his) eyes" to other programs, the Pac-12 school with a whopping 26 NCAA men's team titles has been a target for some time.
"It started my sophomore year, my coach sat me down and said 'I think this is the spot for you," Braun said. "I guess we just kind of set our sights on that from that point forward."
"One of the main things I wanted was a coach that I could put my trust in. I wanted to have a connection with the coach, and I have it to some level with all of these (schools') coaches."
Braun pointed to the contributions of his summer coach, Ohio Heat's Tremayne Peppers, in his development as a sprinter, utilizing every inch of his 6-foot-3 frame.
"That's something he's really instilled with me since day 1: He's always saying 'Pick your knees up,' " Braun said. "Form is a huge emphasis when we train. We train to be efficient and lead the whole time and control it. And that's what we do."
"Form is a huge aspect of my running. Being a large powerful guy, it's something you have to do, you have to incorporate to be as efficient as I am."
In his first full year as a track and field athlete, Braun made his presence known in the 2019 New Balance Nationals Indoor at The Armory in New York City. As the lone freshman in the Championship Boys 400 field, the now 17-year-old finished in 48.96 seconds on the banked oval to narrowly miss the all-upperclassmen final by just three thousandths of a second.
"Actually, it was more of reassurance," Braun said when asked if he used any disappointment from that race as fuel for the future. "I took that as, 'Ok, I am up there with these guys, and this is something that I can do. I can compete with these people.' Instead of a loss that angers me, I left actually more motivated."
With his first OHSAA Division I 400 title in hand, Braun mentioned the significance of a dominant win indoors in the 2020 SPIRE Showcase as a "breakout race" in his continued development as a top-level sprinter.
"It was just a race that I went out, I led, pretty strong all the way through," he noted. "I was so confident out there, it was so fluid, all the pieces kind of connected for me. I think it kind of resonated with some people. I was just having fun, I guess."
With the global pandemic wiping out his 2020 outdoor season, Braun was back hitting on all cylinders the following season as he continued as one of the most active and productive sprinters in Ohio and the country. His 2021 indoor campaign opened before the New Year's holiday with an outstanding sprint triple that included a 60 PR and his lone 400 of the indoor season. He would end his junior indoor season as the fastest Ohioan at four distances and nationally ranked in the top 10 from 60 to 500 meters.
Braun then lowered his lifetime bests from 100 to 400 outdoors in 2021, claimed the 1-2-4 triple at the state meet and ended the year as Ohio's fastest at 200 and 400 and No. 2 in the short dash. Nationally, his 46.14 was US No. 2.
"I'm just trying to establish my name and my legacy," the USC commit said of his goals for 2022. "That's always something I have kind of looked at as kind of cool: 'What did you do?' I'm not going in looking for specific times. My main thing is going out and executing, and I want to be a large contender in the 1, 2 and the 4 at every level."