Mason Parris arrived in Ann Arbor with big shoes to fill.
After watching 2018 graduate Adam Coon compile a 116-15 career record, Michigan fans had astronomical expectations for Parris, their freshman heavyweight wrestler. Standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing 265 pounds, Coon was more than just a massive physical presence — he served as an the icon of the program. His graduation left first-year coach Sean Bormet scrambling to replace the three-time All-American.
Hailing from Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Parris stood out as the gem of Bormet’s first recruiting class. As the top heavyweight in FloWrestling’s 2018 rankings, Parris headlined the fifth-best incoming class in the country, per The Open Mat. Parris’ storied high school career — one that included a trio of Indiana state championships and a 206-1 cumulative record on top of four honor roll appearances — drew the attention of powerhouse programs across the country.
Bormet originally planned on redshirting Parris this season to stretch his highly-anticipated collegiate career to an eventual fifth year. Most wrestlers — especially heavyweights — opt for this path under the assumption they’ll be more polished and muscular as a fifth-year senior than as a true freshman.
Not Parris. Bormet had no qualms about unleashing the beast.
“It’s a process we went through in the fall,” Bormet said. “We wanted to make sure we had a good chance to evaluate (Parris) physically, competitively and technically. We feel like he’s capable of reaching his goals this year. I can see he really absorbs (information) just from watching his mental adjustments from one practice to the next. He raises the bar pretty quickly.”
Parris hasn’t just raised the bar — he has redefined it. When it came time to shed the redshirt during the team’s recent West Coast trip, he took the mat against the NCAA’s No. 1 heavyweight, Oregon State’s Amar Dhesi. The unfamiliar venue, the mounting pressure of a college debut and a daunting matchup against the nation’s top-ranked heavyweight all pointed towards a bleak outcome.
Rather than caving under pressure, Parris displayed maturity beyond his years. He dominated the match, winning 11-4, behind four takedowns and a riding-time advantage of 1:31 against a bigger opponent.
“I've had to adjust to wrestling the bigger guys,” Parris said. “I’ve taught myself to set up my shots more because I can’t just power through guys like I used to. Now that I’m wrestling guys bigger than me, I have to use my technique.”
In his second match, Parris secured crucial bonus points by pinning Arizona State’s Brady Daniel to ignite the Wolverines’ 12-point comeback against the 23rd-ranked Sun Devils.
Saturday’s match against No. 19 Illinois’ Deuce Rachal followed a similar script. In his home debut, Parris — who entered ranked No. 8 among heavyweights despite just two prior competitions — brought Crisler Center’s roaring crowd of 4,026 to its feet by pinning Rachal at the 5:57 mark in the final match of the night. The thud of Parris’ pin put a resounding exclamation point on No. 6 Michigan’s 28-10 victory over the Illini, moving the Wolverines to 6-0 on the year.
“The thing that sticks out about Mason most to me is that he’s fearless,” said redshirt junior Jackson Striggow. “He’s not afraid to let it fly out there — he tore up the number one kid in the nation with absolutely no fear. It’s really cool to see a kid so young be able to do that.”
Spearheaded by Parris, Michigan appears primed for contention this season despite recent turnover within the program.
A year ago, Coon and legendary 19th-year coach Joe McFarland were the emblems the Wolverines’ wrestling program, while Parris was plowing through Indiana’s high school wrestling scene and Bormet was McFarland’s assistant. Today, Michigan has embraced a new identity — one which has propelled Parris to the national conversation and catapulted the Wolverines to the forefront of college wrestling.
Parris isn’t working tirelessly on the mat to replicate Coon’s legacy — rather, he’s forging his own path to stardom with each passing match.