McNamara standout wrestler Alfred Bannister was dripping in sweat during an early Sunday morning workout at Gonzaga earlier this month, searching for breath in between a fierce sparring sessions with his older brother, Andrew.
Alfred has wrestled almost every Sunday morning for the past 10 years. It’s become part of his inner wiring, an almost religious service that he almost never misses. He’s worked out Sundays after playing football for McNamara on Saturdays during the fall, and after winning Saturday night wrestling tournaments in the winter. And on this particular Sunday, during the heat of the summer, when so many of his opponents are still sleeping in their beds, he’s here. Drilling. Conditioning. And sparring.
“Any wrestler knows that, by the end of the third period, you’re going to be dead tired,” Bannister said. “Everybody’s at their best at the first period. So the point [of Sunday morning practices] is to move the best you can, to perform at the best all the way through the match, even in the third period with 10 seconds left, and you’re gasping for air.”
The 138-pound Bannister, who committed to Maryland in May, had a sensational junior season. He finished 68-0 in matches, winning the WCAC, MIS, National Prep and Beast of the East titles en route to his second consecutive first team All-Met selection. But even after committing to the Terrapins after a lengthy recruiting process, little has changed for Bannister. He has continued his commitment to McNamara’s football team, where he is slated to start at running back this fall, and has continued to streamline his obsessive wrestling workouts every weekend.
During this summer in particular, he has been working out with the football team Monday through Thursday, followed by strenuous two, two-hour wrestling sessions during the weekend. They are paramount to staying in shape. During the aforementioned Sunday morning session at Gonzaga, he works out with three other wrestlers in the Eagles’ dark basement practice facility, the perfect setting to get work done.
The session, led by Howard Coach Wade Hughes, a former George Washington standout wrestler, is split into three sections. The first third, lasting 45 minutes to an hour, is devoted to “drilling,” where Bannister works with another wrestler to hone his technique. They practice simulated moves, honing footwork and head-fakes. The drilling fatigues Bannister, which is designed to perfection for the next portion of his workout, when he wrestles live with his brother.
Andrew Bannister was a three-time state champion at McNamara before going on to wrestle at VMI. This year, he will suit up for Notre Dame College of Ohio. He has always been the perfect test for Alfred, since they were kids; he’s about 10 pounds heavier and supports a longer, lankier frame than his younger brother.
They go at it for several phases at Gonzaga, and both get their shots in. It is a very physical session. Andrew sprains his ankle at one point, after throwing Alfred to the mat. Alfred flips his older brother out of a hold a little later, prompting Hughes to turn to the boys’ father, A.J. [a three-time SMAC champion at McDonough], sitting in the bleachers. Hughes tells him, “That was a nice move. That was a nice, nice move.”
“You can’t call UPS. And they show up at the door, and say ‘Hey you’re a good wrestler,’” A.J. Bannister said. “I didn’t see it when [Alfred] was young . I just thought, you know, we were going through wrestling phase, him and his brother. And people would tell me, you know other coaches, that was way more qualified than me, would say ‘Oh, he’s going to be a great wrestler one day. He’s going to be a state champion one day.’”
The last phase of the workout, when Bannister is spent, is dedicated to conditioning. Bannister does wave after wave of bear crawls, pull ups, planks, rope drills and push-ups.
“I’ve been doing bear crawls since I was five years old. Pull ups since I was five years old. Push-ups since I was five years old,” Bannister said. “All that’s tough. It breaks you down.”
Bannister credits his two-day-a-week wrestling workouts with keeping him injury free and burnout-free throughout his career. He will continue to sprinkle in running and weight lifting during the school year. His worst injury has been a broken finger, and his father has always preached to him the importance of a strenuous lifestyle in keeping him from being injured on the football field. And the workouts are his shield from other regiments. He doesn’t keep a particular diet, adding that cutting weight during the wrestling season has never been an issue for him. He will wrestle at 145 pounds this winter, he said, and will line up at running back just a few pounds heavier than that.
After last season, he gained 15 pounds. He dropped another couple of pounds during football and wrestling workouts during the spring. Currently, he’s working at about 152 pounds, he said.
“I try to make cutting weight not that big of a deal,” Bannister said.
He’ll continue his Sunday morning workouts throughout the next year, even during the fall during football season, before he heads off to Maryland in 2014. He figures to be on the of the best wrestlers in the mighty Big Ten, which the Terps will join in 2014; even then, he will likely continue working out with his brother and Hughes on a weekly basis, with his father A.J. looking on.
“[The Bannisters] have that military kind of focus. Most of their workouts are real grueling workouts,” said McNamara football Coach Keith Goganious, who has Bannister working out with running backs and linebackers this summer Monday through Thursday, focusing on “explosive” drills that are designed on changing direction and footwork. “It’s rare. He’s a guy that’s one of the top rushers in the country, and that’s a lot of wear and tear on you. He’s a guy with a lot of leverage.”