There are a lot of fresh-faced underclassmen on the LIU Post wrestling team. And then there's Johnny Brush.
Amid 14 freshmen, two sophomores, a junior and senior stands Brush, a 32-year-old former Marine sergeant who takes the mat against athletes from a different generation.
"A lot of the guys weren't even born yet when I started wrestling," Brush, a senior captain, said of his teammates.
"We're a very young team, lots of freshmen," senior teammate Chris Dilorio said. "Since I'm 22, we always say that I'm the old guy. But when Johnny comes in, we joke that he's the grandpa of the family."
Brush was an all-conference wrestler at East Meadow High School when he decided to serve his country. He enlisted one week after his 17th birthday, he said, and served three tours in the Middle East and South Asia from 2000 to 2009.
"I always had a firm belief that the freedom that I enjoyed was paid for by those who came before us," said Brush, of Oyster Bay. "And when it came my time, it was my responsibility to repay that debt and to pay for the freedoms of the people that are going to come after me."
Brush rose swiftly through the enlisted ranks and said he earned his sergeant stripes after two years and nine months.
"The Marine Corps is who I am," Brush said. "I really transformed completely into a Marine. I gained a ton of discipline. I gained a ton of respect. I gained a ton of responsibility."
Now, he said, his No. 1 responsibility is to his sons, J.J., 9, and Ryan, 5 -- being a great dad and teaching them to never give up.
"I just want to show my kids that, yeah, I may be older. I may be slower. I may be all of these things, but I'm going to work my hardest every single day. And as they're growing up and come into a tight spot, I hope that they think of this, and think, 'Well, dad didn't quit on wrestling when he was 32. I'm not going to quit, either.' "
Eligibility was never an issue; Brush had never competed in college wrestling and there are no age restrictions.
Although Brush (174 pounds) is 1-3 in college wrestling, each bout is special to him.
"After I wrestle and my sons come down and start hugging me and saying they're proud of me, it's just the best feeling in the world," Brush said. "I'm like, 'Oh no, here come the tears. I'm just sweating from my eyes!' "
Brush, a health and physical education major, said he hopes to teach physical education and coach wrestling and track after receiving his degree.
Deciding to go back to school was a big decision for a husband and father of two.
Before enrolling at Post, he attended New York Institute of Technology and worked as an electrical apprentice, he said.
"It was a great job . . . but it wasn't something I woke up loving to go do," Brush said.
He said his wife, Alison, then an elementary school psychologist, had no qualms about him giving up his job and becoming a full-time student.
"She knew it was something I wanted to do and was supportive right off the bat," Brush said. "Never for a second did she say, 'Well I don't think this is a good idea,' or, 'We're going to be tight on money.' "
Being a student is one thing, but keeping up with markedly younger athletes is another.
"With the age difference being a big thing, I can't afford to miss workouts," Brush said. "I work out three times every day. There are nights when I get home at 8:30," and then he goes for a run.
"With age, I've lost speed and some fluency," Brush said. "But I feel like I'm stronger, more determined and more dedicated than I was when I was younger."
His dedication hasn't gone unnoticed, either.
"With his military background, he has that 'never stop going' mindset," LIU Post assistant coach Ryan Patrovich said. "He's incredibly disciplined, and one of the hardest workers on the team. He's a true leader for us."