To some people, lists serve as a friendly reminder.
Whether it is a list of groceries or a few errands to run, they can come in handy if someone thinks he or she might forget something.
But perhaps nobody needs lists like Penn State wrestling’s Matt Brown does. Without them, he would probably forget more than picking up a gallon of milk.
Brown, 22, has so many personal obligations on his plate that he writes most of them down in order to stay on top of everything.
“[They’re] too specific, and I write too many,” the redshirt sophomore joked about his lists. “But I think it’s something, I don’t want to forget it, so I write it down.”
Studying criminology and economics, the nationally-ranked wrestler hits the books almost as hard as he takes down his opponents, holding nearly a 4.0 GPA. He also excels in the school’s Army ROTC program.
And when he is done for the day, he comes home to his wife, Lauren.
Before arriving in Happy Valley and juggling these responsibilities, though, Brown took two years off to complete missionary work in Africa.
Even for a wrestler as talented as Brown, the sport was not his top priority in 2009.
Brown, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints(commonly called the Mormon faith), traveled to Mozambiqueand Angola for about a year each as part of a missionary trip after a year at Iowa State. While there, he tried to spread the word of his faith, teaching “anybody who would listen about our church.”
“[The mission is] not required by any means,” he said. “But if I have something that I think, that I believe is this great, why wouldn’t I share it?”
Spreading his church’s word to the nations’ communities was not the only part of his journey in Africa.
Among the things he did, Brown helped dig large holes for garbage and make clearings with a machete to assist the lives of those he was around.
To Brown, the living conditions were most challenging. He stayed in houses, but power outages were common.
While doing mission work, Brown still had to stay in shape for wrestling, which he would continue after his two-year break.
But without a workout facility anywhere in sight, Brown had to resort to the basics. The only exercises he could do were the simple ones — lots of push-ups and sit-ups.
“It’s not optimal, obviously, as far as your sports career,” Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson, who is also Mormon, said. “But there’s more important things.”
Matt’s mother, Cindy, said that when Brown returned, he was a different person.
“He came home a man,” she said. “It was a real difference, both in stature and maturity.”
The unique experience put things in perspective for Brown.
“Every human being is, we believe is a daughter or son of God,” Brown said. “So you can really see that we’re all similar — it doesn’t matter where you live. We all have the same desires.”
The life-changing trip to Africa was not the only thing Brown’s faith allowed him to do.
It also led to a relationship with his future wife.
Lauren Hemrick was just another involved student at University Park when Brown arrived in 2011. A native of Watsontown, Pa., she was a biobehavioral health major and part of the Student Wrestling Affiliate Club. She met Brown in September of 2011 and the two were mostly mutual acquaintances through events the SWAC attended.
By December, Lauren was “investigating” the Mormon Church — learning about the faith from missionaries to see if she wanted to join it, too. After deciding to become a member of the church, Brown was chosen as one of the missionaries to baptize her on Dec. 10 of that year.
Shortly after her baptism, Brown asked Lauren out on a date. He proposed to her on Easter a few months later and Hemrick became Lauren Brown on Aug. 10, 2012.
Lauren, now 22, graduated with her degree in August 2012, and now works at Geisinger Gray’s Woods’ pharmacy in a full-time capacity.
Although uncommon for most college students, Lauren said it is normal for Mormon couples to wed so quickly.
One thing they can take comfort in is that they are not alone. Lauren said there are also married couples in the church around the area that they like spending time with.
Lauren said they were “blessed” to become close with Daniel and Rachel Burnham. Daniel just finished his senior season on the men’s soccer team, and the two are friends, while Rachel and Lauren are much closer.
“She has definitely helped me understand my role as a supporting wife while my/our husbands pursue athletic/academic careers,” Lauren said via email.
Brown said there is not much of a difference in his life with Lauren now that they are married. But Lauren said that they do see each other more often, since the two now live under the same roof.
Brown liked the idea of investing in a home and found one about two miles from campus while he was dating Lauren. Brown initially got help from several teammates to help make his house payments, and the two decided to continue renting out part of the house after they got married.
Currently, four other wrestlers — Scott Syrek, Morgan McIntosh, David Owens and Michael Waters — stay in the downstairs portion of the house, which Lauren called their “man cave.”
Although Lauren and Matt live together now, the time away is never completely easy for her. Lauren said she likes to think the time they spend apart ultimately makes them stronger, but also admitted that in the near future, distance might make things more difficult.
In the summer, Matt will be in Washington for about a month as part of the many obligations he has in the Army ROTC program.
On Saturday, Dec. 15, the Lions completed a 42-3 rout of Lock Haven during Military Appreciation Day at Rec Hall. For the occasion, the team wore camouflage singlets.
When a question about the singlets was asked in the press conference following the win, teammates Quentin Wright and Ed Ruth both turned to Brown, allowing the ROTC cadet to take his first question of the day.
In high school, Brown began thinking about joining Army ROTC when looking at colleges. He said the commitment seemed to fit his mold perfectly.
“I just like the service component of it; I like the discipline, the work,” said Brown, whose grandfather served in the military. “I think those are my main ideals anyway, so I just fit in well there.”
Cindy said she had no problem with the idea when her son first brought it up, and was proud of his decision.
Like any other cadet in Penn State’s battalion, Brown has several commitments to ROTC. He goes through leadership training and does additional classwork each week.
However, Brown is exempt from the morning physical training sessions that normally occur three times a week. While accommodating because of wrestling, he had to earn the exemption — and did so with ease.
The physical training test is composed of three different events: push-ups, sit-ups, and a two-mile run. Lt. Col. Ken Weiland,a leader of Penn State’s battalion, said that Brown surpassed the maximum score in each category, doing so well that he had to be graded on an “extended scale.”
Weiland said Brown did 124 push-ups in two minutes, far more than the requirement of 75.
“I don’t think I’m slighting anybody by saying he’s the most physically-fit cadet in our battalion,” Weiland said.
While there was no record book kept before Weiland’s arrival, he is instituting one this year and said Brown scored the highest of anyone he has tested.
Brown’s physical fitness level is certainly impressive, but what strikes Weiland is his performances on the mat and in the classroom, too. A double-major, Brown has earned straight-A’s, save for one A-minus he received last spring semester, Weiland said.
Weiland called Brown “the full package.”
“A lot of our cadets are skilled and qualified, but he’s just one of the, what we call ‘the best of the best,’ ” Weiland said. “ […] Matt is just unique in that he’s at the top of his game in every aspect, and I can’t say that about all of our cadets.
The proficiency in class has been noticed on the wrestling team, too.
“[It] is kind of ridiculous that he dropped the ball there,” Sanderson joked about the lone A-minus.
Brown’s modesty is another thing that has impressed Weiland.
“He is just so much more mature and humble, for all of the attributes and qualities that the young man has, than you get from a lot of people in his position,” Weiland said. “He’s just a quiet, humble, but very capable leader. The kind of guy we’re looking for.”
This summer, other Army officers like Weiland will test Brown’s ability. Along with several thousand cadets, Brown will trek to Fort Lewis, Wash., for a month-long camp.
There, Brown’s leadership performance will be assessed by his ability to take a mission, develop a plan and lead his peers through training exercises at the camp.
But before he leaves for camp, Brown has the chance to become a national champion wrestler.
Prior to his mission, Brown was recruited to Iowa State’s wrestling program by Sanderson, who was the head coach of the Cyclones at the time.
Sanderson said he first noticed Brown through his three state titles while competing at Cyprus High School in Magna, Utah. But Sanderson said that it’s not uncommon to see repeat champions in states with multiple divisions, and recruited Brown after seeing him at a camp.
“He was working real hard and he had that look in his eye,” Sanderson said.
Even though he was also being recruited to wrestle for the United States Military Academy, Brown was drawn to Iowa State because of Sanderson; he saw similar opportunities in ROTC outside of West Point, plus the chance to be coached by a wrestling legend. When Sanderson became the Lions’ head coach prior to the 2009-10 season, Brown decided to follow him to Penn State when he returned from his mission.
“I can fulfill my Army goals that I have, be an Army officer, and also win national titles. And that’s what I’m here to do,” Brown said.
Winning national titles is definitely in the realm of possibilities for the sophomore, who redshirted during his lone year at Iowa State.
Last year, Brown’s first with the Lions, he racked up a 27-2 overall record and seven pins, with a perfect 5-0 dual record.
Included in those dual wins were two matches as a replacement at the 197-pound weight class, one against a ranked opponent.
Before each win at that weight, Brown weighed in at only 174 pounds.
Ruth, who won a national championship at 174 pounds last year, stood in Brown’s way for the Lions’ starting spot at that weight. But this year, the junior is wrestling at 184 pounds, giving Brown a chance to shine.
So far, he is doing just that. Ranked No. 4 in his weight class by Intermat , he is 17-2 with five pins. After seven dual wins, Brown was dealt his first dual loss of the year against Nebraska’s No. 3 Robert Kokesh on Jan. 27.
Teammate James English attributed Brown’s ability on the mat to his attitude.
“He has the best attitude of anyone I’ve ever met,” English said. “He’s ready to come in and work every day, no matter whether he’s cutting weight or what’s going on. He’s got a smile on his face, and he’s happy to be there.”
English said that the work ethic Brown brings to every aspect of the wrestling has paid off for him.
“Guys can’t even stand up by the time the match is over,” English said.
When Brown finishes his wrestling career at Penn State, he hopes to take his talent from the national level to the world stage.
Brown will apply to the World Class Athlete Program, which is run by the Army, in hopes of making the Olympics. Even if he’s denied, he still plans to serve in the military.
According to its website, the WCAP looks to provide its members with the chance to compete at the international level, while maintaining military careers.
“[The process is] hard, but I have never seen a soldier that’s the caliber of a wrestler that Matt is,” said Weiland, a Penn State wrestling season-ticket holder.
Brown said he sometimes wishes there were more hours in the day, but is able to balance all his commitments because of the values his parents instilled.
“My parents taught me about hard work, and just, ‘give it your best effort; it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, do your best.’ And I appreciate them greatly for that,” he said.
That was one of several values Cindy and her husband, David, taught Brown, along with his older brother and four older sisters. Cindy said that they stressed to them that education comes first, too.
She also said that Brown is so good at juggling his responsibilities because he manages his priorities well.
“I don’t play video games; I try not to waste time,” he said. “You can basically do what you want to do. I feel like if you make the right priorities, you’re going to get done what you want done.”
Not all of Matt’s habits came from his parents, though. Cindy said the do-it-yourself trait he has was a gift.
For instance, Brown decided to learn how to tile his bathroom on his own, something that Cindy said is unheard of with her husband.
“We have to hire people to do our bathroom,” she said, laughing.
Looking back on what her son has already been able to do with himself, Cindy envisions a very bright future ahead for her youngest child.
“Is the sky the limit? If Matt wants the sky,” she said, “I would say that he is capable of doing whatever he wants to do.”