By Dave Melton
Photo: Sam Janicki
Michigan senior Mason Parris kept coming back to phrases like “job’s not done” or “the season’s not over yet.”
But the Wolverines heavyweight also couldn’t downplay what he’d accomplished on Sunday night.
“That’s definitely one of the top memories so far,” he said. “I’ve been wanting that Big Ten title for a really long time and it’s great to finally have one.”
With a 5-3 overtime win against Penn State’s Greg Kerkvliet — a championship match between the top two heavyweights in the country, let alone the conference — Parris captured the first Big Ten championship of his career while wrestling in front of the home crowd at the University of Michigan.
But as soon as he finished that brief reflection on that win, Parris’ mind moved forward.
“Obviously, the job’s not done,” he said. “Two more weeks it’s the NCAA tournament and that’s still the main goal — this is just a stepping stone.”
Parris’ record now sits at 28-0, living up to his No. 1 ranking at heavyweight by both FloWrestling and Intermat with his first-place finish at the Big Ten tournament.
His career accolades were already a mile long, including three high school state titles before graduating from Lawrenceburg in 2018, a freestyle world championship in 2019, and a runner-up finish at the NCAA tournament in 2021. But the Big Ten title had remained elusive, with Parris finishing as runner-up twice and fourth place last season.
Reaching this title included a brief step back, too, as head coach Sean Bormet explained.
“As soon as our season ended, we had to make sure that we shut him down on the mat,” Bormet said. “We had to take some time off and start to rebuild his body so he could bounce back. And he attacked it like he attacks everything.”
Parris struggled with a herniated disc through much of last season and the effects from that injury and its subsequent recovery required some patience.
“When I was lifting in the summer I could barely do any pull-ups,” Parris said. “I struggled a lot. But now I can do 25 pull-ups by myself. I finally got that confidence back in my strength. It’s amazing to be able to feel this good again.”
He needed every ounce of strength to outlast Kerkvliet in the championship match, with a late stalling call against Parris sending the match into overtime — unbeknownst to Parris.
“I had no idea about that stall call until I looked up at the clock and saw it was 3-3,” he said. “Then I just had to take a deep breath. I knew what I had to do.”
About one minute into overtime, Parris stifled a shot attempt from Kerkvliet and then barreled through his opponent for the title-winning two points.
“I felt him shoot in deep on me,” Parris said. “I got my legs back and felt a little bit of pressure let up, so that’s why I drove in on him and took him over at the end.”
As he rose to his feet in victory, Parris pointed directly at his father, Mark, in the crowd.
“He’s the one who got me into wrestling,” Parris said of his father. “It’s been a great journey for both of us. It’s great being able to do that for my hometown and for my family.”
Mark Parris, who was a two-time all-conference linebacker at Ball State, got Mason Parris into wrestling by starting a youth program in Lawrenceburg, thinking it would help his son’s athletic future — just not on the mats.
“I started the youth program because I thought he was going to play college football,” Mark Parris said. “Wrestling helped me out when I was in high school, so I thought we’d start that program because they make the best tacklers.”
During Mason Parris’ multi-sport high school career, though, his plans became solely focused on wrestling. And judging by the wide smile on Mark Parris’ face as he spoke, there was never a doubt that this path was the correct one.
“We’re just so proud of him and who he is,” he said.
But, as Mason Parris was quick to point out: that road still has more miles to be explored.
“I can be happy with tonight and celebrate it,” Mason Parris said. “But then I’ll get back to work tomorrow.”
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