Caesar's dramatic improvements may spell lineup spot

Daily Sports Writer
Published January 10, 2009

Let's get this out of the way: Yes, freshman Syque Caesar (pronounced psych) is in a Psych class.

The interesting part of the story is how he came to be taking psychology classes at Michigan instead of Florida International — and how he put himself on the verge of breaking into the men's gymnastics team's starting lineup.

At the start of September, few would have tabbed Caesar as a force to be reckoned with this year.

His arrival in Ann Arbor was unlikely. For six months, his gym in Florida didn’t even have a high bar. A set of rings was also slow in coming, and the ancient pommel horse belonged out to pasture. For years he switched gyms annually, at one point making an 80-mile commute three days a week to practice.

He applied to Michigan and was admitted but planned to go to Florida International, which doesn't have a varsity men's gymnastics team. Fortuitously, a Florida coach at the junior nationals tipped Michigan coach Kurt Golder off about Caesar.

“We had to shake the bushes to get in contact with him,” Golder said. “One thing led to another, and in the middle of the summer, he jumped ship from Florida and came here. … It’s all because one coach just mentioned it.”

With help from his father, a former professional soccer player in Bangladesh, Caesar had coached himself for the previous two years.

Caesar's talent was evident; sophomore Chris Cameron, a fellow Floridian, used to see Caesar at meets and wonder how far he could go with good coaching. But teaching yourself techniques and skills from YouTube videos could only take him so far.

With the Wolverines, Caesar now has all the coaching he could want. Not only are Michigan coach Kurt Golder and three assistants all available to him, but his 23 teammates are just as eager to share their knowledge.

Caesar’s transformation has impressed every Wolverine.

“He came in here and had a little gut on him, and a month later, it’s gone,” fifth-year senior Paul Woodward said. “He’s just ripped. There’s somebody who’s picked up more skills than I can probably count right now.”

Even Caesar finds his progression little hard to believe.

“I think I’ve improved on a scale, like an unbelievable rate,” Caesar said. “I’m learning such high-level skills that I never would have dreamed of doing if I hadn’t been here.”

But the first few weeks were tough. He’d never had such intense or lengthy workouts — or had so far to walk just for classes.
“If I even looked at the high bar, I’d rip,” said Caesar, referring to when the skin on a gymnast's hand tears during high bar workouts.

But after about a month and a half, he had settled into his new routine and everyone took notice. Nearly all his teammates commented on Caesar’s exceptional lines and beautiful style on floor, vault and parallel bars, his three main events. After supplying most of his own advice for two years, the Port Saint Lucie, Fla., native applies constructive criticism with lightning speed.

The one lingering question about Caesar was whether he could show the same promise in competition. In the Maize and Blue Intrasquad, he was in the top three for the Blue team on all three of his events. If the meet had been scored like a regular-season competition, with the top four overall scores counting, all of Caesar’s marks would have contributed to the team total.

Caesar's performance only strengthened his quiet confidence.

“I feel the way I’ve been training in the gym and the way (assistant coach) Scott (Vetere)’s been pushing me, I can be reliable,” Caesar said after the meet. “I want to be the person that everyone can count on to hit that set and not mess up when it counts.”