NCAA FLASHBACK: Two-time champ Suriano learned something about himself between NCAA titles

Updated: April 26, 2022

Photo: Michigan’s Nick Suriano (left) wrestled another New Jersey native — Princeton’s Pat Glory — en route to winning the 125-pound championship in Detroit. (John Sachs photo)

By Mike Finn

Nick Suriano could be the most misunderstood NCAA champion in many years.

And that’s OK with Michigan’s 2022 national titlist at 125 pounds.

“I don’t know if I want to be understood,” said Suriano. The 2019 NCAA champ edged a fellow New Jersey native in Pat Glory of Princeton, 4-3, on March 19 in Detroit, then pointed to his family including his mother, Denise, who was also celebrating her birthday that night in Little Caesars Arena.

“I think I’m blessed to be up here in this ‘sphere’,” he added. “It’s not about the people. It’s not about what’s on the outside. I’ve got my girlfriend, my mom, my brother, my dad, all the mentors, the people I’ve looked up to.”

There is no doubt Suriano wrestles and lives differently than many of his wrestling peers. Prior to his matches in Little Caesars, he became almost robotic with his movements as he prepared his mind and body for battle on the mat.

“I’m just expressing myself when the lights are on, no matter who is watching or how many people are out there,” said Suriano, whose hair was longer than in the past, and braided into tightened corn rows for the 2022 NCAAs. “It’s kind of self-fulfilling prophecy out there. It’s the only way I would describe it. It helps me face my fears.”

This story appeared in WIN’s 2022 Nationals Commemorative Issue. Click on cover or call 888-305-0606 to subscribe.

The most unique part of Suriano’s story — who did not start wrestling for the Wolverines until Jan. 9 of this calendar year and 69 days later won his second individual championship — was how he ended up in Ann Arbor, Mich., this winter.

Why would this 24-year-old wrestler have even wanted to continue wrestling at a different college after the native of Paramus, N.J., became Rutgers’ first-ever champion — at 133 pounds — in 2019.

After all, Suriano, who started his career at Penn State in 2017 before an injury prevented him from wrestling in that season’s national tournament, returned to his home state and wrestled for the Scarlet Knights at the 2018 NCAAs. He placed second that March at 125 pounds.

After beating Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix — the 2019 World Team member — one year later in the college Nationals, Suriano rediscovered freestyle and chose to take an Olympic redshirt in 2020. But when the pandemic delayed the Games for a year, Suriano continued to focus on freestyle, and also earned his degree during that time.

The pandemic was not kind to Suriano, who tested positive for COVID in April of 2021. Because of that, he was unable to wrestle at the Olympic Trials in Ft. Worth, Texas.

“After that COVID thing happened at the Olympic Trials, I didn’t even know if I wanted to wrestle again. It was like I just had to put everything in perspective and decide if this is the kind of man I wanted to become again. And can I do it in a way that was cleaner and more organic to who I was.

That sent Suriano on a journey west to the likes of Phoenix, Ariz. — where he trained with Arizona State’s Brandon Courtney, the 2021 national runner-up, who Suriano beat in the 2022 semifinals — and Lincoln, Neb., as he was looking for life’s answers on and off the mat.

There was even speculation he might return to Penn State, before showing up at Michigan.

For the Wolverines, who had hoped to win their first national team championship before the home crowd in Little Caesars Arena, it made sense. Coach Sean Bormet needed an experienced 125-pounder to ignite a veteran team … and that worked two weeks earlier in Lincoln, Neb., where Michigan captured its first conference title since 1967.

But by the end of the NCAAs, it was Suriano who captured the Maize and Blue’s first individual title since 2012, while the Wolverines ended up second as a team in Detroit.

“It’s been a long journey,” Suriano said. “Going to Michigan at this time of my life was the best thing for not only myself, but I think the team and the people I’m around. We’re blossoming together.”

Suriano, who ends his college career with an 86-7 record, said he enjoyed his time in Michigan. But he is unsure where he will end up next. He did seem to find fulfillment in his short time there. This was especially true in Detroit, especially considering it was the first time a full arena of fans could witness the NCAAs since a sold-out crowd saw him win his title in Pittsburgh in 2019.

“It was cosmic,” Suriano said after the finals. “You’re facing your fears. You’re seeing people you’ve competed with. Who is up a weight? Who is down a weight? It’s a lot.

“Then you have the fans and the energy and the screams and the yells. It’s how you channel it. It comes down to these little milliseconds. I’m learning. You have to seize them right when they open or it becomes a blur. I’m just super fortunate and grateful truly to be back at this stage.”