WHEELING - Making the most of a bad situation.
I've known Branko Busick for quite some time. My two sons grew up with him in Weirton and they wrestled together in pee wees.
I was as shocked as anyone several years ago when I learned that he had been arrested and charged with armed robbery after an incident inside an apartment in Morgantown that involved a gun.
Busick, who migrated across the Ohio River to Steubenville and became a two-sport all-Ohioan (football, wrestling) at Big Red, was a 6-0, 245-pound linebacker at West Virginia University with a bright future.
That was until that fateful summer night in July of 2011.
"That was the best worst thing that could've happened to me," he explained Friday night after winning his first bout during the 34th annual Ohio Valley Toughman Contest inside downtown Wheeling's WesBanco Arena. "Getting into trouble like that definitely gave me a different perspective on life."
Busick, who was subsequently dismissed from the Mountaineers' football squad, was placed on five years probation after pleading guilty to two counts of assault during the commission of a felony. He was also assessed 250 hours of community service.
"Being able to make a comeback in my life, I hope other kids see that. That's the biggest thing that I took out of my situation," the 23-year-old said. "Getting in trouble like that and being mature enough to see what I did wrong, and being able to overcome that situation and get my life on track, I hope other kids out there that might go down the wrong road for a little bit, say 'wait a minute, life isn't over. I can do the right thing.'"
When asked what the toughest part of being in trouble was, he responded, "there were 1,000 things going through my head. It was the hardest time in my life.
"I could've went one of two ways. I could've put my head down in the dirt and said 'poor me' and not done anything with my life, or I could get my stuff together and man up ... make things right.
"As soon as I got in trouble, I said 'man, what happened here?'" he admitted. "Then once I sat down, I had my family's support and my fiancee's family's support. I had a group of friends and all of Steubenville come behind me and help me get my life back on track."
So, instead of playing middle linebacker at WVU, Busick is now playing the same position at California, Pa. He saw action in all 11 games last season for the NCAA Division II Vulcans, charting 19 solo tackles and 26 assists. He also had seven tackles behind the line for minus 27 yards and a 7-yard quarterback sack.
"I felt like an old man, but it was fun," he said of his first action on the field in quite some time. I love football."
He said things like this weekend's Toughman keep him in shape for football.
"I wrestled for most of my life and I've competed in some MMA stuff, so one-on-one sports are my type of sport," he assessed. "I love boxing, as well."
It came as no mistake that Busick would be a great wrestler. After all, his father, Nick, was a member of the World Wrestling Federation as "Big Bully" Busick back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
And today, his dad is his biggest supporter.
"When I got in all that trouble, that man, my dad, stood by my side and was the best dad a kid could ask for. Not only my dad, but my family and friends, as well," he said with emotion creeping into his voice."
While waiting for football, a little Toughman Contest action can't hurt.
Busick dominated his 3-round heavyweight bout with Barnesville's Cory Hastings. A big right hand near the end of the first round sent the 280-pound former Shamrock face-first to the canvas. To his credit, he got back up and last until midway through the final round when the referee wisely stopped the fight.
He will be back in action tonight seeking one of several titles that will be awarded.
It's always nice to see someone make the best of a bad situation.
There were a whopping 51 fights scheduled for last night, and there were three fighters who received byes. That means 105 of the 191 early entrants were brave enough to show up and step into the squared circle.
I was only able to take in the first 15 fights because of deadline constraints, but those bouts, of which all but five were decisions, took nearly an hour and a half.
Tonight's action also includes a 4-round professional heavyweight boxing match between Travis "The Terror" Clark and Rocky Burch. Clark was ringside last night.
Tonight's action starts at 7:30.
North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org