Graziani’s gridiron success translates to wrestling mat

AUSTINTOWN – There aren’t too many 145-pound football players who start at linebacker for a school the size of Boardman.

The situation becomes even more rare when that person is a 5-foot-8 sophomore who is in his third year playing the sport.

Mario Graziani of Boardman has found a way, and he’s not just a starter – he was named the Spartans’ MVP this past year after finishing with 75 tackles and leading the team in tackles for loss.

And believe it or not, it’s probably his second-best sport.

“He can tackle – that’s the bottom line,” said Boardman wrestling coach Dom Mancini, an avid football fan who attends all the Spartans’ games. “He’s fast, he’s quick and he’s strong. He’s fun to watch on a football field.”

He’s pretty exciting on a wrestling mat, too.

Graziani is one of the more dominant wrestlers in the Eastern Ohio Wrestling League and has been on a tear for Boardman, which is competing at this weekend’s Joshua Hephner Memorial Tournament at Austintown Fitch High School. He’s currently 21-4, with a first-place finish at the Kenston Invitational, a tournament he didn’t even place at one year ago, and a fifth-place finish at the Top Gun Tournament, widely recognized as the toughest tournament in Ohio.

The success has changed the aspirations of Graziani.

“My first goal was just to make it to state,” he said, “but I can really see now that I’m at the right level and I’m trying to place at state now.”

Graziani nearly reached the state tournament last year. He was a sectional champion as a freshman and was two matches away from advancing to the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus, the site of the state tournament, but he lost by a point during the consolation rounds of the district tournament in Mentor.

Mancini said such success is extremely rare for an underclassman, especially for a middleweight wrestler competing in Division I. But Graziani’s athleticism, combined with his experience (he’s been wrestling since kindergarten) allows him to compete with – and usually beat – juniors and seniors. And that’s only part of the reason.

“First of all, he’s real competitive,” Mancini said. “He doesn’t like to lose. And secondly, he’s just a great athlete. He’s got a lot of things he can pull from when he’s in a tough match.

“And he’s really good all three positions (top, bottom and neutral). That’s the hardest thing to do in this sport. When you can turn people on top, you can get out from the bottom and you can take people down, you can beat just about anybody.”

Graziani also comes from a long lineage of wrestling stardom. His father was a state champion at Columbus DeSales, and his brother, Nico, placed fifth at the state tournament as a senior for the Spartans in 2012. Mario said both have played a huge role in his success.

“My dad has been working with me and coaching me since kindergarten,” he said. “My brother comes and work with me, too, and they’ve helped me throughout my whole life.

“My dad still rolls around on the mat a little bit,” Graziani added with a laugh. “He’ll last about a match, then he’s done for the day.”

The youngest of the bunch hopes to last quite a few more matches this year. With the postseason only three weeks away and Graziani wrestling as well as he has at any point in his career, Mancini believes anything is possible for the sophomore sensation.

“He’ll peak at the right time, that’s one thing he knows how to do,” Mancini said. “His potential is really unlimited in the sport. It’s up to him. He really has the ability to win it all.”