Brandon Valley's Navarro Schunke aims for fourth state wrestling title this weekend in Rapid City
The Lynx standout is getting offers and attention in football and wrestling as a junior.
BRANDON — Navarro Schunke has a lot going on these days.
The Brandon Valley High School junior will be pursuing his fourth individual title when the state wrestling tournament kicks off on Thursday, Feb. 23, in Rapid City. Schunke won the 220 pound class as an 8th-grader, beating full-grown young men while still in middle school. Then moved up to the 285 class where he's hasn't lost in three years.
That's made him one of the most sought-after college wrestling prospects in the country, but Schunke is also a top-flight football prospect. A dominant offensive lineman, the 6-foot-5, 285-pounder (he'd be much heavier if he didn't have to keep weight down for wrestling) has been getting interest and offers from some of the biggest college football programs in the nation. The interest is high despite missing his entire junior year with an injury. Schunke was back in time for wrestling, has gone 24-0 this year, and expects to return to the gridiron in the fall for his senior year of football.
Schunke has football offers from Nebraska, Arizona State, Illinois, South Dakota State, South Florida, Pitt and Kansas, with many more major schools making contact. The wrestling offers haven't started yet, but the nation's top programs are all ready to pounce.
But with all that going on, there are two things Schunke says are his top priorities for now. First, is becoming the No. 1 wrestler in the nation. He's currently ranked fifth in the country in his weight class by FloWrestling. The second is helping the Lynx repeat as Class A state champions this weekend. Schunke's individual dominance has become a given and he's going to go on to much bigger things after high school, but being part of a team and helping his teammates share in his success is part of what drives him.
College wrestling — or football — can wait.
"I'm still not No. 1 in the country, and that's where I need to be and that's where I want to be," Schunke said. "Of course, I want to stay undefeated, and (state titles) never get old because I get to do it with the guys. If it was just me, maybe it would get old. But I have my teammates to win with me, and our team is good enough to go win again."
Like most of the country's best wrestlers, the sport has deep family ties with Schunke that gave him an early start. Navarro's dad, Tony, is a former wrestler and wrestling coach. Navarro and his older brother, Damion, were in a wrestling stance before they were in kindergarten. Tony was also a strong football player.
Their mother, Jen Schunke, was one of the best softball players in Arkansas Razorbacks history and later became a college coach.
Damion became a two-time champion at Brandon Valley and now wrestles for Arizona State. He was a major influence on Navarro, who took his family's tutelage and is turning it into one of the most dominant careers in state history.
After bursting onto the scene with his state championship as an 8th-grader, Lynx football coaches took note. The late Chad Garrow was then the head coach, and current Lynx football coach Matt Christensen was an assistant. Christensen said they couldn't wait to get the grappler on the field to move people for their high-powered offense.
Football didn't come as naturally to Schunke, but he was a quick learner with natural gifts. Schunke started at offensive tackle for the Lynx state championship team as a freshman, then paved the way for a runner-up finish as a sophomore.
"We'd pull him — you don't pull a tackle very often — and he would just get on guys and stay on them," Christensen said. "He was always in (the defender's) way and always with the right angle and leverage. A big kid with more agility than most of the guys his size have. He turned himself into a dominant player."
But injuries forced him to miss the 2022 football season. That hasn't scared away college recruiters. While wrestling has been the family obsession for years, Christensen said Schunke's love for football has only grown.
"He helped coach the younger guys while he was injured and was always helping at practice," Christensen said. "He's a great leader. You can tell he loves football, loves being part of the team, loves supporting the guys."
And that's how Schunke feels in the wrestling room, too. Though he gets attention and will go places most of his teammates never will, Schunke is mostly just one of the guys. He works dutifully with his partner in the room, trying out new takedown shots and asking his teammates to give him different looks he can prepare against. Much like how Damion mentored him, Navarro now sets an example for his younger brother, Elijah, a freshman.
"He's a great teammate," said Lynx wrestling coach Derek Outland. "He pushes all of them to do their best and helps them however he can."
These days Schunke barely gets tested on the mat, so a common question is how he stays motivated, avoids burnout and maintains focus. Two summers ago, Schunke won championships in both freestyle and greco at a national tournament in Fargo, which demonstrated the ceiling he has.
"He's got big goals that go beyond South Dakota," Outland said. "National goals. He's one of the best in the nation, and he's always keeping things like that in the back of his mind."
As far as overlooking an opponent or laying an egg, Outland almost laughs at the suggestion.
"He doesn't, he just doesn't," the coach said. "His mental mindset, he knows what he has to do. He's comfortable in big matches because he's been there so many times before."
No matter what happens this weekend in the Black Hills, Schunke will still have a lot left to accomplish before leaving Brandon. Another year of football that figures to draw even more attention from some of the most famous college coaches in the sport. Another wrestling season to add to what's already a historic legacy.
Somewhere in there, Schunke will have to pick a college. He's good enough to play both sports at the Division I level, but being a heavyweight basically rules it out as an option. He'd have to lose weight for wrestling, gain it back for football and deal with overlaps in training.
It's been tough enough in high school, where Christensen points out Schunke's football talents have been limited by the fact that he can't lift weights, because it would leave him unable to make weight in wrestling.
"I've thought about it a little bit," Schunke said. "I could do both but I want to make sure that whatever I choose I'm the best I can be. When it's wrestling season that's kind of my favorite and when football is in season I feel like I love football the most. I just want to find the best place for me."