Spotlight Knight: Nick Suriano
As a child, Nick Suriano made frequent visits to College Avenue. Years later, as a man, he would return to the 200-year-old campus a hero, one who had left no stone unturned on his route to immortality.
The Paramus-born, New Jersey lifer launched his athletic career as a youth football defensive back, but then his father, Robert Suriano, introduced him to the world of wrestling at age 7. From then on he discovered his lot, and spent the next 14 years fighting his way to the top of the field. Though he was never in one place, he would reach his ultimate goal close to home.
By the time he was 12, he had officially abandoned football to commit to the craft of wrestling, just in time to prepare for one of the most storied high school careers in the history of New Jersey wrestling.
“I just loved the individuality of wrestling and the freedom I felt. I felt like I had more control,” Suriano said.
As a standout at Bergen Catholic, Suriano went a perfect 159-0, winning the state title every year there, but his success was just the tip of the iceberg in the context of a foreshadowing high school career. A high-octane workout routine, which Suriano has become synonymous with on social media, stemmed from habits in high school.
In 2016, as Suriano was closing his undefeated career at Bergen Catholic, the 5-foot-5-inch, 130-pound wrestler was featured on Sports Illustrated, in an article that highlighted his extreme weightlifting and cardio tendencies.
“I try to put myself through the worst punishments you can possibly go through … I try to make it worse than any tough match," Suriano said, according to Sports Illustrated.
When he was 15, he was introduced to head coach Scott Goodale, and later that same year would come another first meeting with a now-familiar figure.
At the final round of the 2014 USA Wrestling (USAW) Cadet World Team Trials, a high school sophomore Suriano would challenge Charles Page High School’s Daton Fix. The first high school meeting between the two best lightweights in the country ended in a Fix USAW title, but the two wouldn’t have to wait long for a rematch.
“We were the two best guys at the weight and it’s just the matchup that everyone wanted. Everyone wanted to see Suriano versus Fix,” Suriano said.
The very next year, with the two once again at the top of the national high school rankings, they met at the Snake Pit for a bout that has since simply been labeled “The Marathon Match.”
Suriano and Fix wrestled for 35 minutes in that match, the longest match on record in the history of high school wrestling, and one that would see Suriano even the odds from the previous year. Suriano got his revenge and evened up the series against Fix, 1-1. It would be the last time the two would meet in high school, but only a preview for rivalry that would come to a precipice five years later on the sport’s biggest stage.
“He helped me manifest my dream, honestly,” Suriano said.
Despite being a New Jersey lifer, and his familiarity with Rutgers, when Suriano’s career at Bergen Catholic was finished, he opted to leave home and take his talents to one of the country’s highest profile college wrestling programs.
Penn State, a University notorious for poaching New Jersey talent away from Rutgers, would be Suriano’s destination of choice.
Suriano started his collegiate career 17-1 in the 125-pound weight class, before an ankle injury ended his freshman campaign. Not only would the injury end his first season in the Big Ten, but it would also end his tenure as a Nittany Lion.
“I had to sit and watch people I beat go and win something that I had wanted to achieve my whole life. I learned that there’s more to life than wrestling and winning. That’s what I know how to do, so when I got hurt and I couldn’t do that anymore, it taught me a lot. I took it as a time to build, learn and reflect on myself,” Suriano said, according to Team USA.
Suriano made it to the program he desired most as a high school wrestler, and was just as successful as he was expected to be at the next level on the premier wrestling team in the country, but one season was all it took for him to realize it’s not where he belonged, and then wasted no time coming home.
In summer 2017, Suriano requested a release from Penn State so he could return home and transfer to wrestle for Rutgers, but it would not be as easy as just packing up and coming home. The Big Ten’s transfer policy granted Penn State the ability to block Suriano’s eligibility if he did transfer to Rutgers, and Penn State followed suit.
The rule would have taken Suriano’s sophomore season, only leaving him two more years of eligibility to wrestle for Rutgers, but an appeal to the Big Ten committee would be the difference as Suriano was granted full transfer rights and eligibilty to wrestle at the Rutgers Atheletic Center (RAC) for the following season.
It was a sophomore season that seemingly saw Suriano pick up right where he left off. In his first campaign as a Scarlet Knight he went 25-1 and undefeated in dual meets, but just as it did a year earlier, an injury would impede his aspirations.
Despite this he returned by season’s end and made his debut in the NCAA Championships for Rutgers, and made it all the way to finals where he came within a match of claiming a national title, but his championship aspirations would have to wait one more year.
The Banner Year
“I used to be worried about what others thought … but I had faith in my life. Two years in a row I was at rock bottom, mentally and physically, but I don’t care how people judge me,” Suriano said at the Rutgers Wrestling Media Day in October.
Suriano’s second season on the Banks would go down in the Pantheon of Rutgers Athletics. Now ascended to the 133-pound weight class, an undefeated start to the season was snapped by none other than Fix when the two met at the RAC in January. A controversial hands-to-the-face call in overtime awarded Fix a tainted win, and would be the first of back-to-back losses for Suriano, the first two-match skid of his career.
Suriano finished the season with only three losses, to Fix, Iowa’s Austin DeSanto and Michigan’s Stevan Micic, but all three of them would pay for those victories when it mattered most.
His revenge tour began in the final round of the Big Ten Championships in Minnesota. With his first career conference title on the line against DeSanto, Suriano wrestled through a match that saw him suffer a bloody wound to the face, but claim victory and the last laugh over an opponent that offered a physical altercation at the end of the match.
Then, in the 2019 NCAA Championships in Pittsburgh, Suriano would go on a run that delivered history to Rutgers. He conquered the 133-pound bracket all the way to the semifinals where a rematch against Micic awaited. Suriano posted a 4-1 win to take down the in-conference rival and advance to the final round.
The opponent for that final round could not have been scripted any better. A battle with Fix was now the only thing separating Suriano from the national title, and of course it would go to extra time. In overtime, trailing by 1 point with the final seconds waning, Suriano worked a 1-point escape to tie it, and then in second overtime delivered a takedown to claim sudden victory over Fix and the first national title in the history of Rutgers wrestling.
“I just got hit with a wave of bliss and energy and I kind of got put in a trance,” Suriano said. “I kind of just looked around the crowd. It was kind of blurry and then I looked to the right and I saw Coach Goodale and it was just over.”