It was New Years Eve and Reece Hughes was playing video games with his friends. With only a few hours until the new year, the sophomore was prepared for a night of some relaxed fun coming off of what had been a particularly grueling winter break of training.
Then around 9:30, Hughes’ phone buzzed and displayed an incoming call from Michigan coach Sean Bormet. Bormet informed his young wrestler that he would be traveling with the team on their west coast trip to cap off the break and that he would be wrestling — although he’d be doing it two weight classes up. Hughes, typically wrestling at the 165-pound weight class, would be filling in for an injured Jelani Embree, one of Hughes’ closest friends.
When it came time for his match on Jan. 3, Hughes stepped onto the mat with a game plan and nothing to lose and shocked everybody in attendance with a third period pin, highlighting a 33-8 victory for the Wolverines (4-0 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) over Oregon State (1-3).
All the more remarkable, Reece faced a nearly identical situation just a year earlier. When Michigan faced off against the Beavers in the Joe Wells Classic last season, Hughes stepped up a weight class and filled in for the then-injured Logan Massa to secure another surprise victory. Hughes showed everybody what it means to be a team player, embracing any opportunity to wrestle for the Wolverines, even if that means his record might take a hit.
In the end, despite the weight difference, it was Hughes’ preparation and training that led to the victory.
“Reece’s been training incredibly hard the last six to eight weeks,” Bormet said. “He’s always trained hard, but there’s been a noticeable amount of increased intensity in his training, and I’m seeing it daily.
“He’s a gamer. He competes hard, he sets a hard pace, he’s good in all three positions, and everybody’s excited to see him get his hand raised.”
Hughes knew he would have to approach things differently if he were to tac some points on the board for his team. In response, Hughes schemed with Bormet to keep the pace and movement high and tire out his opponent heading into the third period.
The plan worked like a charm. Hughes began the third in the down position, struggled to get to the edge of the mat with his opponent, Myles Terry, still draped over his back, then waited for Terry to make a mistake. After rolling around a bit on the edge of the mat, Hughes made his move, catching Terry’s leg and using his hips to thrust the wrestler onto his back for the bout-sealing fall.
“This was one of the matches where I didn’t have anything to lose, and that’s why I feel like I wrestled a better match at the end of the day,” Hughes said. “I went out there with, ‘Just go out there and give it your all.’ That’s what a few of the coaches came up to me and mentioned before the match. As long as you go out there and give it your all, we’re gonna be happy with your performance.”
Another highlight for the Wolverines came from freshman Mason Parris, who pulled off an enormous upset against the top-ranked Amar Dhesi in a near-dominant 11-4 decision.
After finding success wrestling unattached to start out the season, Parris and the Michigan coaching staff were faced with a tough decision — redshirt their prized freshman or let him compete.
When match time rolled around, Bormet and co. decided to unleash the beast, setting Parris free onto the collegiate wrestling scene. Parris responded in-kind, handily beating D1’s No. 1 heavyweight.
“When you have a conversation with Mason, you could just see in his eyes he wants to compete and he’s up for the challenge,” Bormet said. “He’s excited about competing, he loves to compete. That’s why these guys want to go wrestle in college, and that was a great opportunity for him tonight, and he was excited about it.”
Added Parris: “It was a great feeling. It definitely boosted my confidence a lot just to compete with Michigan across my chest and compete for the team with my friends and stuff, so it was a really good experience for me.”
With a key freshman set to take on the gauntlet of Big Ten wrestling and a deep bench ready to wrestle up for the sake of the team, the Wolverines are poised for a dramatic season heading into the new year.