Mike Nunziato received the call around 11 p.m. one night last summer. Nick Suriano—then a rising junior and star wrestler at Bergen Catholic High School—was missing.
“Where the hell is Nick?” Suriano’s father, Robert, asked Nunziato on the phone.
“He was done at 7 p.m.,” said Nunziato, Nick’s trainer. “What do you mean?”
Midnight was approaching and Nunziato was worried something had happened. But Nick was fine—he decided to add a few extra hours of running to his workout and had forgotten to inform his parents of his plan.
“I try to put myself through the worst punishments you can possibly go through," he says. "I try to make it worse than any tough match."
Across the street from a dirt baseball diamond at Elmwood Park, N.J.’s Borough Park and down the road from a Subway sits a light tan-colored garage labeled “BLDG E” in the middle of a gated parking lot. The building is the headquarters of Total Nunziato Training (TNT), founded and operated by Nunziato.
It’s Friday afternoon and eight high school athletes are working out inside the facility with Nunizato, sports performance trainers and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). Seven of them are football players, including four-star defensive tackle Corey Bolds and four-star linebacker Drew Singleton, both juniors at nearby Paramus Catholic High School; Lehigh signee Dylan Connolly and Dylan McDonald, a member of the USA national football team.
The eighth is Suriano, by far the smallest in the gym, standing at 5'5" and 130 pounds. Despite his size, he is—objectively and indisputably—the hardest worker there.
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“You can see him walking down the street, thinking he’s a regular kid, but you get in here and you see a whole different animal out of him,” says the 6'3", 260-pound Bolds. “I think that’s what’s his best quality. His mentality is that he’s not going to be defeated. He wants to prove everybody wrong and in this world, everybody looks at size and stuff like that, but it just seems like he doesn’t worry about size.
“He just does what he has to do.”
Singleton has never seen Suriano wrestle—at least in person.
“[I have] on YouTube, a bunch of times,” Singleton says, smiling. “[He’s] nasty fast and physical. That’s the only way to describe him.”
Friday is “explosion day” at TNT, which means athletes will complete a workout focused on power and strength: sprints, single-leg lifts, squats, outdoor sled pushes, core work and more.
In between reps most seek oxygen and rest, which comes in different forms for each athlete. Some lean against the equipment for support. Others put their hands on their head or their hips. But Suriano doesn’t stop. Sporting a low-cut mohawk, he jogs in place, knocks out a set of incline push-ups, stretches and then makes his way across the room to the pull-up bar.
“My body and mind are always moving,” he says. “It’s mostly my mind telling me I got to do more. It’s just my way of getting an edge and feeling good about myself.”
Bill McDonald, the father of USA football player Dylan, has noticed Suriano’s affinity for pull-ups.
“At the end of all the workouts, he does chin-ups and I couldn’t believe how many chin-ups he does after the complete workout,” McDonald said. “His work ethic is unbelievable.
“The thing that I find remarkable about him is his quickness, like in between sets he’ll come out here and he’ll do the wrestling moves but he’s just so quick. He spins and he dives. I never saw him in a match but I could just imagine how quick he must be at wrestling.”
Suriano does everything with a bounce in his step.
Even after his workout, during a 20-minute, two-second interview with a reporter, he moves the entire time, shifting his 130-pound frame from side to side, almost to the beat of Lil Wayne’s “3 Peat” blasting through the facility’s speakers.
“I’m me, times three
So retreat or suffer defeat
I’m back, three-peat”
Suriano three-peated the New Jersey state wrestling title as a junior, then won his fourth in March of this year. He ended his high school career 159-0, becoming just the second undefeated, four-time state champion wrestler in New Jersey history.
The last time Suriano lost was in the preseason in October. Before that, it had been a couple years since he had been defeated.
Reflecting on the loss, Suriano said he went in flat to the match and didn’t pull the trigger. He was winning with 10 seconds left, but his opponent put him on his hip, came from behind and picked up two points to get the victory.
“Losses are important too because you learn from what you could’ve done better,” Suriano says. “You learn from those mistakes. I don’t want to be Mr. Perfect. I just want to be the best me I can be.”
Even still, Suriano never wants to lose. He doesn’t train to lose and he doesn’t like losing. In the rare instance in which he does, Suriano says he digs deep within himself to sort out the situation and move forward.
“That loss made me who I am right now,” he says. “I came back, I won the belt, I beat him, got my number one rank back and did it with ease. It was worth it."
After an undefeated high school career that ended with four state rings on his fingers, expectations are high for Suriano as he moves on to the next stage of his career.
“I mean you really can’t set a bar on a kid like that,” says Connolly, Suriano’s long-time friend and workout partner.
Suriano will be attending Penn State in the fall on a wrestling scholarship. The team went undefeated this season with a 16-0 record, earning the Nittany Lions’ fifth team national championship in six seasons, two individual national titles and six All-American honors.
“They’re getting the best guys, they’re getting the guys that are not the best and they’re making them the best,” Suriano said. “They’re making them champs and that’s what I want to be a part of. They’re national champs, they’re D-I All-Americans, so I’m going in to a lion’s den and that’s what I want.
“This is what I am, a warrior.”
Suriano’s next goal is to win a national championship as a true freshman.
After that? It’s anyone’s guess. He’s small in stature but his dreams are global and boundless. He lists entertainment, acting, marketing and business as he begins to map out his career path.
“I want to be known, I want to be an icon," Suriano says. "Global. Worldwide. Pay-per-view. I want it all. I want to be the one driving the Lamborghinis, I want to be the one with the gold medals, to be the one that has a Wikipedia [page]. I’ve put in the work, I have the look, I have the drive to just win, to never quit. I sit back at night and this is all I want.
“I want to be the best.”