Thierno Diallo is no stranger to picking things up quickly. After all, within months of arriving in the United States in elementary school, he was interacting and communicating in English, a language he didn’t know at all when leaving his native country – Guinea.
So it wasn’t a huge surprise to those who knew Diallo, a future 125 or 133 pounder for Binghamton, that just three weeks after seeing his first-ever wrestling action, he won the county championship at 103 pounds.
It was his freshman year at DuVal High in Maryland and the football coach, who also assisted with the wrestling team, suggested that getting on the mat would help make Diallo better on the gridiron.
“I watched a lot of tape and learned a lot by doing that,” he said. “I didn’t wrestle at the beginning of the season, but once I started, it came together for me. I had a really good coach who taught me what I needed to know and who helped me make the transition.”
He didn’t only win that county crown just a few weeks into his career, however. Shortly afterwards, he took fourth at the regional event to qualify for an appearance at the Maryland State championships.
“Wrestling at the state tournament was definitely shocking,” he said. “When I walked in, it wasn’t what I ever expected. In my first match, I don’t remember anything until the third period. I was too busy worrying about the people in the stands before I realized that I needed to focus on wrestling. I lost that match and I learned a lot. It was a stepping stone for me.”
While he originally began wrestling to help his performance on the football field, he quickly changed course. Because after even a short period of time on the mat, he decided wrestling was his future.
“I ended up falling so much in love with wrestling that I quit football to focus on it,” he said. “As soon as I started, I realized I liked the one on one part of it. It’s just you, depending on no one else. I liked the idea of having to do it myself.”
While he had a lot of quick success, he knew longer-term achievements would come from really immersing himself in the sport.
“I spent the time going to camps and as many tournaments as I could,” he said. “I just wrestled and wrestled and wrestled. It made me so much better in just a few months. I came back for my next season much more prepared.”
Diallo once again breezed through the county and regional competitions and arrived at the state event with more confidence. He went all the way to the finals before dropping the title bout to take second. Then, as a junior, he again lost a single match at the biggest event of the season, picking up a bronze medal.
Without a state championship, he wasn’t satisfied. Diallo set out to make up for it in the offseason by taking on some of the nation’s best.
That began in Philadelphia at the FloNationals, where he entered at 113 pounds. After a first round victory, he dropped a 3-1 decision to Pennsylvania’s Tanner Shoap. He knew it was a long road from there to make the podium.
“Going into the tournament, I thought I would be able to be an All-American there if I wrestled the way I knew I could,” he said. “After I lost, I looked at the bracket with my coach and we saw that I would need to win a lot of matches to place. My coach said, ‘Well, let’s get started.’ I kept doing it one match at a time.”
Diallo won five consecutive contests to get himself in the medal picture. After a setback against Angel Velazquez of California, he defeated New Jersey’s Luis Gonzalez to capture seventh.
“That was a really exciting moment for me,” he said. “It taught me that I could wrestle against the best of the best and that I could wrestle match after match and not be exhausted. It was a fun learning experience.”
Another such experience took place a bit later in the offseason, when Diallo decided to make a run at the Junior Freestyle and Greco Roman Nationals.
“I wrestled at the Maryland states in Freestyle and Greco the year before but hadn’t practiced those styles again,” he said. “I liked Freestyle and Greco, though, and I thought, maybe I would try to get to Fargo.”
He did well enough to represent his state in North Dakota and he made an impact there, taking fourth at 120 in Greco. He said he plans on returning this summer for another chance to get higher on the medal stand.
But despite the accolades at those national competitions, Diallo’s main goal was to get an elusive state crown. He cruised through the 2012-13 season at 126 pounds, sporting a 31-0 mark coming into last weekend’s Maryland tournament.
In his first three bouts, Diallo outscored his opponents 38-0 to make the finals. And then, he finished the job with a 7-1 victory in the title match to get the gold medal missing from his collection.
“It was a relief to finally win state title,” he said. “It was the only thing left that I really felt like I needed to win. I had a chip on my shoulder after taking second and third the last two years. I was really motivated to be the best this year.”
Even prior to finishing atop the podium, Diallo had a number of colleges recruiting him, including Maryland and North Carolina State. But he felt that Binghamton was the right choice.
“Binghamton seemed like a perfect fit for me,” he said. “It’s not too far away from home, but far enough. I loved the look of the campus and the high academic standards. My parents moved to this country because of better educational opportunities and getting a really good education is something that my family really values. Binghamton had all the right pieces and parts to be the place I want to be for the next four or five years.”
Diallo joins a stellar recruiting class for the Bearcats, which includes a number of the top ranked seniors in New York such as Zack Zupan, Nick Kelley, Nick Tighe, Kyle Kelly, David Almaviva and Bryce Mazurowski.
While those wrestlers have familiarity with the Empire State already, there’s no doubt Diallo will pick up what he needs to know about the Section 4 area in no time.
After all, picking new things up quickly is something he has done many times before.