“I wrestled for six years when I was younger. Ever since, I just felt like something was missing. Senior year was kind of like that time to bring it back."
MIDDLETOWN — Dean Florendo walked onto the mat at Gaudet Middle School on Tuesday night with both arms raised. His 285-pound match was over before it started as the senior earned a forfeit win for the Middletown High School wrestling team.
The Islanders already had clinched the match thanks to back-to-back pins from Ahmad Elhariri and Ryan Kerr at 182 and 195 pounds, respectively. Florendo’s forfeit win added six more points to Middletown’s total and gave the Islanders a 45-36 triumph over Classical.
“That’s our strength, the last three,” Middletown coach Jason Rushton said. “They’ve been the strength, the backbone of the team for a little bit.”
Returning seniors Kerr and Elhariri remained unbeaten against Division II foes this season as Middletown climbed to 3-2 in the Division II-A standings. Florendo, who weighed in at 245 pounds on Tuesday, has compiled an overall individual record of 12-5 while competing for the first time since middle school.
Rushton said he tried to convince Florendo to wrestle last year, but that didn’t happen.
“It’s very unusual to take a long break and come back and get into it. I don’t think he’s wrestled since the seventh grade,” Rushton said.
What changed Florendo’s mind? Maybe he wanted the physical workout. An offensive guard and defensive end on the football team, he missed eight weeks after suffering a hairline fracture to his left tibia. He played in only three games, the last one on Thanksgiving Day.
“I don’t know. I don’t know why I came back,” Florendo said. “I wrestled for six years when I was younger. Ever since, I just felt like something was missing. Senior year was kind of like that time to bring it back. You put yourself into a new situation where you don’t know what you’re looking at, but what you’re looking forward to. It was kind of like a culture shock.”
Florendo reacquainted himself with his surroundings quickly. Becoming physically prepared to wrestle is still a work in progress. Florendo lost his first two bouts, both of which lasted the full six minutes.
“I was not really in shape for wrestling,” Florendo said. “Football is a whole different story, but wrestling shape is pretty hard. I don’t think I’ll ever be in wrestling shape. I was really tired my first time. I went the full six minutes, but I was hacking up a storm the first 20 minutes after.”
“You could see him running out of gas,” Rushton said of Florendo’s first couple of matches. “You have to train a long time for a six-minute match. He was pretty dead at the end. But with a little endurance, you knew he could get there. I told him the kids he lost to he would see again and he’d beat them. He already has beaten one of them but hasn’t seen the other kid yet.”
Florendo said when he last wrestled, he weighed about 140 pounds but won a lot of matches. Now he’s 100 pounds heavier and facing opponents up to 285 pounds.
“Back then, I was kind of a powerhouse. I was always such a big kid, so that helped me out,” Florendo said. “There weren’t too many people who beat me. We’re a lot older now and everybody is getting a lot better. It’s fun now because I get some competition. And it’s a lot different tempo.”
Florendo has improved since his early matches this season, and his performance at the Marshfield Tournament in Massachusetts was something of a coming-out party.
“The turning point for him happened at the [tournament], when he went 7-1,” Rushton said. “His only loss was to the Mount Hope kid on points. Then he came back and pinned him in the third-place match. I think the biggest thing with him is his athletic ability. He moves really well and has speed. He’s agile. He can even do a back flip. It’s been a good transition for him.”
Florendo knows he’s improving. All he has to do is check the monitor.
“One hundred percent I think I’m getting better. Looking at videos from the early matches, it’s crazy,” Florendo said. “Looking at what I was doing in that first match versus what I did in our tournament ... it’s all coming back — muscle memory.”
Florendo hopes to have the referee raise his arm when any of his matches come to an end. But the Middletown senior has to wonder if referees would be raising his arm more this year if he had gotten back into wrestling last year.
“I feel like if I came back last year I probably would have had the same type season that I’m having now,” Florendo said. “So if I would have come back last year, I can only imagine what my season this year would be like. It might be a regret but you can’t really change it.”
Half of the 14 bouts in the Middletown-Classical match were forfeited, with the Islanders picking up four wins. Elhariri pinned John Lalli in 89 seconds, and Kerr pinned Trevor Martins in 27 seconds.
The Islanders' other wins came when Brad MacGregor scored a 9-6 win over Crystal Beckles in the 126-pound bout and Jad Elhariri pinned Amy Giron in the 145-pound match. Classical lists nine girls on its roster of 33.
“You just have to go out like it’s another opponent,” Rushton said. “Once you get going and the adrenalin is going, it’s just another match. If you let up you’re going to be on your back and that’s not a great place to be.”