When Brookfield East wrestling coach John Veal first saw John LeClaire's younger brother, P.J., he thought two for the price of one would be a pretty good deal.
John was in sixth grade when his father took fourth-grader P.J. along to join the Spartans Wrestling Club. Veal took one look at the duo and was impressed.
"Coach Veal said, 'He (John) can join only if he (P.J.) joins too,'" P.J. recalled.
"John was interested in wrestling," Veal said, "but you could see right away that P.J. had quite a bit of talent. So I kind of put that on them right away."
Several years have past since that first meeting. Now, Veal is the head varsity coach and the LeClaires are his top two wrestlers - John at 195 and P.J. at 220.
Veal had a great answer when asked if the brothers had a healthy competition going.
"I'm not sure if it's healthy," he laughed, "but there's a big competition there. John is still big brother, but P.J. is bigger so he tries to bully John. But wrestling-wise, John has the advantage."
But that advantage is growing smaller.
"The difference between the two, the gap has narrowed dramatically," Veal said. "Both have gotten better. P.J. didn't know how good he could be from his freshman to his sophomore year. But the way he has dedicated himself to his body, it's going to be scary to see what he can do next year."
Veal talked about how P.J. changed his eating habits and worked in the weight room to become what he is today.
"PJ has changed his body around in the last year," Veal said. "He did a lot of hard work. He really dedicated himself. It's amazing the body fat that he's lost and the muscle that he has gained. The transformation is showing in his record."
Veal said that P.J. had a workout schedule he did on his own before school. After school he would go to track practice and then he would go to wrestling club. He committed himself to his body.
Initially growing up P.J. thought wrestling was going to be harsh, like what you see on TV.
"It was more fun and you can enjoy it," he said. "I just wanted to do it with my brother too."
As for big brother, he thought it was cool and something he wanted to try.
"In middle school (Pilgrim Park) they didn't have too many sports and I thought I would give it a shot," John said. "There were like 60 kids who went out but not a lot of them stuck with it.
John found he enjoyed the sport.
"I enjoyed the pushing yourself aspect," he said. "Every day you were working to get better. I'm not the most physically-gifted athlete. But I feel I am one of the hardest workers you're ever going to find."
John won the conference championship in his eighth grade and that spring boarded his career.
He wrestled at 135 pounds his freshman year and 145 his sophomore year. He then made the big jump, going to 195 his junior year putting on 50 pounds of muscle in the weight room.
"I was playing middle linebacker and I couldn't do that at 155," John said of his weight gain. He then took advantage of that on the wrestling mat.
"I learned to wrestle as a lightweight and I kind of transitioned that into the big weights."
Distinct wrestling styles
Although they are only one weight class apart, they are two different wrestlers.
"I am a bit more of a shooter than your usual big weight," John said, having wrestled at little weights coming up.
"I have more quickness, use more leg attacks. I have more strength than I did last year, but my go-to moves are still my shots."
John's signature move is the fireman's carry.
"I was a sophomore at the Merrill Tournament and coach yelled out 'John do a fireman's!' It worked and I just kind of stuck with it ever since. You go with what works."
Not surprisingly, P.J. has a different approach when asked if he has a signature move.
"Not really," he said. "A couple throws here, a couple shots there. Patience and power, that's my game. I wait for something to open up and I'll take advantage of it. I'll wait for the other wrestler to make a mistake."
While both played football - P.J. was a center on last fall's conference championship team - they realize wrestling is more of an individual sport.
"It's different. It's a lot more pressure. The spotlight is on you," P.J. said. "If you do well, you get more glory for it. There is an intimidation factor. Before the match, I try to get ready, get hummed. I look the guy in the eye before the match, shake his hand and then you just want to dominate him."
Big brother agreed.
"You want to go out there and dominate your opponent," John said. "Not just wrestle with him, but inflect your will on him. Wrestling is a sport where it's one on one and losing sucks."
Being a senior, John has been accepted at the University of Wisconsin and has opportunity to attend Air Force Academy. P.J. will be back for two more years.
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