Zack Zupan celebrated his commitment to Binghamton this weekend by getting some much needed, and rare, time off.
“One of my buddies has a camp up North with a big fishing area,” he said. “We went up there and hung out a little bit. It’s nice to go away and do some relaxing activities because my schedule has been pretty jam-packed.”
It would be fair to say that Zupan has been busy. Five days a week this summer, he’s been doing speed sessions and weight training for five hours, beginning at 8 o’clock in the morning, under the guidance of Todd Cutrie. When he’s finished, he heads to work on a nearby farm for several hours before either teaching pee wee wrestling or participating in football practice in the evening.
The work he’s put in has been obvious on the mat throughout his high school career, as he has made his presence felt both in New York and on the national scene. His accolades include a national title at the NHSCA Freshman tournament in 2010 at 160 pounds and two other All-America finishes at national events. He also placed at the New York states on three occasions, including a championship at 170 pounds in 2012, which he believes had a lot to do with the training he put in with Cutrie.
While Zupan was happy to get his first New York crown in February, his performance in the title bout against Nick Mitchell of Frewsburg [a 3-2 decision] left him less than totally satisfied.
“I was a little disappointed with my finals match,” Zupan said. “I didn’t wrestle the entire six minutes like I could have. I definitely hesitated on some opportunities and could have scored more points than I did. I’m looking to put on a better show next year.”
Before he takes the mat for Canastota, however, he has some business to take care of on the gridiron. He is excited to begin double sessions with the football squad shortly, as he hopes to reach some milestones this fall. He said if things go as planned, he believes he can break the state record for tackles and go over 5,000 yards rushing in his last days wearing his helmet and shoulder pads.
“I’ve played football for a long time and it’s not easy knowing I won’t be able to play anymore,” he said. “I know it’s hard to get recruited in New York as a 5-10, 200 pounder. But you have to realize what you were given and commit to the amazing opportunities you have and make the most of them.”
That’s what Zupan plans to do. He expects to compete at 182 pounds on the mat as a senior, wrestling for his father Nick (also a Section 3 champion), his coach who has taught him so much in the sport.
“My father went about it the right way,” he said. “He didn’t force me to wrestle. He was busy coaching high school and getting back late on Saturdays from tournaments. He told me if I really wanted to wrestle, I should set an alarm and wake him up on Sundays. That way, it was my choice. I always set the alarm. We traveled all over the country and he coached me all the way through.”
So, do father and son still go toe-to-toe in the room?
“I wrestled with him a lot when I was younger, but he knows what’s good for him now,” Zack Zupan said. “He knew when the day would come and he retired when he was undefeated against me.”
When he goes off to college, Zupan feels he will be surrounded by familiar instruction. In fact, similarities between his father’s Canastota staff and the Bearcat coaches contributed heavily to Zupan’s commitment.
“I think the coaching staff at Binghamton has the same philosophy,” Zupan said. “They believe in training smarter, not harder. I think I’ll have a nice adjustment to college with the staff they have in place.”
Head coach Matt Dernlan took the reins of the program a few months ago and Zupan takes pride in being the first recruit of the Dernlan era.
“It’s absolutely significant to me,” he said. “I feel like I’m going to help start a great thing. I get to be one of the first stepping stones in where this program wants to go. The coaches believe there is so much talent in New York and they want to keep the best in state and win national titles that way. I’m excited to be part of that.”
Zupan added that he chose the Bearcats over schools like Cornell, Virginia, North Carolina State and Lehigh for other reasons as well.
“I took an unofficial visit and liked that it’s not huge,” he said. “I mean, 16,000 people is a lot to me — it’s more people than are in my town. But it’s on the smaller side for college and I feel like I’ll be taken care of there and I’ll be one of their main guys and I really appreciate that. I don’t think I’ll be just another piece of meat which sometimes happens in Division I wrestling.”
He also is excited to follow the path of Section 3 alum Justin Lister, an All-American for Binghamton.
“I watched [Lister] a lot growing up,” he said. “He was coming out of high school when I was coming in. I just liked the way he wrestled. What I always remembered about him was that he was a really mean kid on the mat. Off the mat, he was polite and nice. But when it came to wrestling, he wasn’t shy. He was a Section 3 All-American and I think it will be cool wrestling at the same school as him.”
But first things first. Before he tackles the college scene, Zupan has a few more wrestling honors in mind.
“I want to be a dominant state champion and then win FloNationals,” he said. “Then, I can’t wait to go to college. I’m really looking forward to working toward a national title at Binghamton.”