By Jason Maholy
At the start of the 2019-20 season, Mike Bosco didn’t see himself as the eventual Class 3A 285-pound state champion.
For one thing, the Sandburg graduate didn’t know he would be wrestling at heavyweight.
More to the point, Bosco had never seriously considered himself as a state title contender; in fact, he had never seriously considered even trying to be one. But through an enhanced work ethic and turnabouts in his attitude and confidence, he ended his senior season a state champ – and an undefeated one, at that.
Last week, Sandburg named him the school’s Male Athlete of the Year for 2019-20.
Prior to his senior season, Bosco’s athletic endeavors had been little more than a way to pass the time and were of such low priority he balked at referring to sports as a hobby. He even used the word “lazy” to describe his former attitude toward and his performance in athletics.
His less-than-focused approach yielded the expected underwhelming results. On the mat, despite being a gifted athlete with size and speed, he had never advanced beyond the second round of sectionals.
“Before my junior year I was in the weight room working out a little, but I never really took it seriously,” he said. “This year I hit the weights heavy and focused on improving. It was a whole change in mentality.”
That translated to Bosco being completely different on the mat. Rather than being wrought with anxiety and doubt and concerned with how he was going to counter his opponents’ moves, he competed with purpose and confidence, and on his terms.
“It wasn’t like I was thinking more, I was almost thinking less,” he said. “I used to think way too much; I would go into pretty much every match thinking I would lose. So, I decided I would stick to what I do best, and I was more clear-minded, so I was able to think about my own stuff and do my own thing.
“That’s the whole difference between junior and senior,” he said. “A better work ethic and being stronger, but really just a change in mentality.”
The attitude adjustment and jump in his work ethic – something just clicked,” he said – began during football season. Coaches had always told him he had the potential to accomplish great things if he was focused and put in the work; but he didn’t see if that way, and he admits he didn’t care one way or the other.
“I was definitely a goof off and I didn’t care much about how much potential I had, even though my coaches told me every day,” he said. “I was just in football and wrestling because I was kind of good
“I decided this is my senior year, I’m not going to just keep doing what I’m used to doing and just slack off all the time.”
With returning state qualifier Kevin Zimmer entrenched at 220 pounds, Bosco had planned to wrestle at 195; however, by the season’s first tournament over Thanksgiving break he had not been able to cut down from his football-playing weight. He wrestled at heavyweight and took first place, and afterward he made a somewhat prophetic statement – unbeknownst to him – to his coaches.
“I said I’ll keep going at heavyweight until I lose, and I just never lost,” he said.
Bosco cited his performance at the prestigious The Clash tournament in Rochester, Minnesota, in early January as the moment he knew he could contend for a state title. He went 6-0 and recorded three falls en route to the 285-pound title.
“I knew I could make a state run but by no means did I think I’d win a state championship,” he recalled. “Until then I thought I was getting lucky.”
At 6-foot-5 and competing at roughly 215 pounds, Bosco is on the smaller end of the heavyweight class; in fact, he would comfortably make weight at 220. Zimmer, the Eagles’ 220-pounder, was usually larger than him at weigh-ins.
While he may have been outsized in nearly every match, he countered with superior speed, length and athleticism. The realization he could use this to his advantage against his less agile opponents precipitated another shift, as he went from working primarily inside moves and double-leg takedowns to outside moves, sweep singles and low ankles.
“But even if I had the weight, I think I would have been more athletic than most of the guys I faced,” he said. “The quickness, that goes without saying, but I was also technically better and more athletic.”
Bosco played tight end and defensive end on the gridiron, and he credited the latter with helping him improve his wrestling technique. Squaring off against physically imposing and talented offensive linemen from powerhouse programs such as Homewood-Flossmoor and Lincoln-Way East every Friday night forced him to find ways to use his abilities to his advantage.
When he entered the State Farm Center on the University of Illinois campus for the state tournament, he was singularly focused on leaving with a state championship. He says he hardly remembers saying a word to anyone the three days he was there, even after the final buzzer sounded in the championship match, in which he defeated Edwardsville’s Lloyd Reynolds, 3-2. He was one of three unbeaten state champs this season in Class 3A, and he was the first Sandburg grappler to claim a state crown since Pat Brucki won at 182 in 2017.
“I had a little celebration,” he said. “I was happy but my mind was clear, and I just thought, ‘I did it,’” he said. “It didn’t hit me until I was in my hotel room and I was looking at my bracket board.”
Bosco almost didn’t wrestle his senior season. After a strong football season, he figured he would play football in college. Instead, he will wrestle at Illinois as a heavyweight. He plans to apply his newfound confidence and the lessons learned from his maturation in future pursuits, athletic and otherwise.
“If this wrestling season had never happened I would probably go into a job interview the same way I used to go into a wrestling match; I ‘d be super scared and not be myself,” he explained. “Now, I’ve learned to take on stressful situations super calm-minded.
“I can’t imagine if I didn’t have the wrestling season I had; it really changed my life.”