As he has several times before, redshirt freshman Anthony Biondo has outgrown his wrestling shoes.
“I thought I was stuck at (size) 11 1/2, but I’m busting out of these right now,” he said of his black and white Nikes.
But unexpected growth is nothing new for Biondo.
Wearing size 8 1/2 shoes, he won the Michigan state wrestling title at 103 pounds as a high school freshman. By his senior year, he was a state champion at 145 pounds.
Last year, during his redshirt campaign, Biondo wrestled at 174 pounds, but that slot in Michigan’s starting lineup belonged to All-American redshirt junior Steve Luke.
Luckily, Biondo kept growing.
This season he has found a home at 197 pounds, compiling a 23-10 record and a No. 14 national ranking in the NCAA’s second heaviest class.
After bulking up to almost 200 pounds over the summer, Biondo has trimmed down to around 192 pounds during in-season workouts. He regularly wrestles opponents who are five pounds heavier and is the only non-heavyweight on Michigan’s roster who doesn’t need to cut weight before matches.
Biondo views his lower weight as an advantage because his wrestling style relies far more on speed than strength. In years of wrestling in the lower weight classes, he honed uncommon quickness and agility that often catches his bigger opponents off-guard.
“He grew up a lightweight so he has really good technique and great leg attacks,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “He carries a lot of that stuff with him and I think that’s going to be a real big advantage for him as he continues to fill out.”
Using shots not often seen in the heavier weight classes, Biondo has racked up 23 takedowns this season. Once on the mat, he’s shown the ability to neutralize opponents with his legs, often leading to bonus points. His five falls are tied for most on the team.
“In almost every match, I do things you wouldn’t typically see from a bigger guy,” Biondo said. “I think that’s been to my advantage.”
At 197 pounds, Biondo fills an important spot in Michigan’s lineup. In meets, he wrestles after fifth-year senior captain Eric Tannenbaum, Luke, and redshirt junior captain Tyrel Todd. All three are All Americans and ranked in the top five nationally.
Biondo frequently extends rallies started in the middle weights, often making the difference in tightly contested meets.
In duals when Biondo has won, Michigan is 12-2. When he has lost or not wrestled, the Wolverines are 2-6.
“It was really nice to see him fill into 197,” McFarland said. “It’s definitely helped us, especially in the Big Ten because there are so many well-balanced teams this year.”
McFarland may not want to get too used to seeing Biondo at 197 pounds. Biondo jokes about it now, but a future move to heavyweight is not out of the question.
“The way I’ve been growing, who knows,” he said. “Those guys are so big. I think I would just kill people at heavyweight.”
For that, he’ll definitely need some bigger shoes.