In what has become a growing trend the past few years, another talented young athlete is leaving high school early to pursue a full-time Greco-Roman wrestling career. Delon Kanari, who is currently on the precipice of finishing his junior year at Wauconda High School in Illinois, has committed to attend Northern Michigan University next fall.
In itself, the move is not a surprising one: Kanari, 17, had voiced his intent to join the ranks of those in Marquette several times before. The difference now is that he will be doing so further ahead of schedule than originally planned. The decision also makes Kanari the third high schooler in three straight seasons to deviate from the standard praxis, as Wisconsin’s Alston Nutter (2016) and Benji Peak (2017) both left their high school folkstyle careers behind prior to graduation in order to embark on new adventures at NMU.
As a product of Illinois’ unmatched depth at the age-group level, Kanari has turned himself into one of the nation’s most visible Greco-Roman prospects. Strong performances at the Junior National Duals and a sixth-place finish at Fargo in ’17 not only elevated his status, but are indicative of a climbing trajectory. Kanari did not place in the Illinois Greco state tournament in 2015 or ’16 as a Cadet, but he won it all last year as a first-year Junior. In addition, he demonstrated a zeal for international training and competition by attending Northern’s Superior Camp last summer where he participated in the special dual meet versus Team Sweden.
Though he now has a big piece of his immediate future now mapped out, Kanari isn’t through with his time at Wauconda. There are steps remaining in his goals on the high school level which still require his attention, and once those are wrapped up, there will be a trip overseas for the Austrian Open, one of Europe’s most high-profile Junior events. In other words, Kanari is a busy man these days, but he took time out last night to reveal what went into this decision and acknowledge some of the folks who helped him along the way.
Delon Kanari — 55 kg, Illinois
5PM: First and foremost, what prompted this decision now?
Delon Kanari: Well, we weren’t sure 100% if I wanted to go to NMU or if there were other training options for Greco. Plus, there were a couple of other financial issues and a couple of things we still needed to get squared. But recently, we had been talking to Rob (Hermann) and Andy (Bisek) and the NMU staff, and we got everything squared away. It was yesterday when we decided that, Yeah, I want to be at NMU next year. And I can’t really wait to let everyone know.
5PM: You’ve seen other athletes do this recently, leave high school to get a jump on Greco with Nutter, Peak, Nick Boykin, and Kamal Bey among the names. Did you struggle at all with this decision, wondering if you’d regret it, that sort of thing?
DK: I talked a lot with my club coach Chris Haag. He’s a big part of my life, and really, I wouldn’t be anywhere at all in wrestling or specifically Greco without him. I run everything by him. He knew I wanted to go and he knew that Rob and Andy were interested in me coming. They actually wanted to ask me if I’d consider going my junior year. But after talking with Coach Haag, we decided that we needed one more year to get all of my grades in order and to end the folkstyle season right. To just get everything in order before I’m ready to go leave. It took a lot of talking. I knew deep down I wanted to go, but there was some stuff we had to talk about first. It wasn’t the right time yet. Now I feel like it is.
5PM: Seeing the success and growth coming from the kids who have led the way here recently to go full-time, that must have been an encouraging catalyst for you to do this.
DK: Oh yeah, of course. When I met Alston, I asked him a ton of questions about it and I’ve seen how much better he has become from watching his old matches. He’s placing in international tournaments and just got gold in Denmark. Benji just got there and he is already placing in international tournaments.
I talked to Alston a lot and just asked him a lot of questions. He actually set me up with Lucas and the high-performance training I go to every month in Wisconsin. It definitely encouraged me because I saw Alston do it and then I saw Benji do it, and it was like, Man, something is really working here that they are having this success. And Benji hasn’t even been there too long, and he is already improving a lot and seeing this type of success. So yes, definitely.
5PM: We all talk a lot about Illinois at the age groups, you just can’t escape it. It’s such a vast program and there are so many excellent coaches in place, everyone knows who they are. In your mind, what is it about the Illinois program that fosters a love for this style?
DK: I’ve got to give credit to Coach Bryan Medlin, he runs a really great program. He just really teaches that same hard-nosed style of wrestling. He talks about how it is all about the fight, Greco is all about the fight, and always engaging. There might be rule changes or UWW may have rule changes — they change the rules a lot — but he keeps the same type of mentality, which is to always be engaging. He teaches the same skills. Of course, he adapts them, but it’s the same type of mentality, to always keep going and really push the pace. That is kind of what Illinois is all about, being hard-nosed.
5PM: What did you find about Northern that made it the most attractive place to be?
DK: I remember my first time visiting last spring break. I went in there and immediately upon walking into the practice room, it just felt right. The training that they all go through, it’s always tough, but it just felt like home. It felt like a family there. Everyone is grinding and we’re all working towards the same goal, World and Olympic medals. Great coaches, great facility, and it’s a room full of talented wrestlers and different partners to work with.
5PM: You’re also pursuing an education. Do you have a major in mind or a particular field you’re interested in studying?
DK: Yeah, I actually one day want to become a teacher, either an English or history teacher. It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do.
5PM: Was there ever a point in your decision-making where you considered maybe staying in the folkstyle system and maybe going to a traditional college program?
Delon Kanari: Well, before I started getting into Greco that’s originally what I wanted to do. But I had no clue about the options if I wanted to wrestle full-time Greco in college. Once I found about it, I for sure, 100%, wanted to take it down that path.
5PM: Who are some of the Greco athletes you have kind of looked up to?
DK: I’d have to say Randon Miranda, he’s a really big one. He is one of the first guys I met when I visited NMU. He is a great athlete and a great Greco-Roman wrestler, and he helped me out a lot with some moves, training, showing me around, and making me feel at home. We just kind of clicked right away. I love hanging around him and he’s a great practice partner.
I also really look up to Andy. He’s a great coach and he has done a lot for the USA as far as Greco. I really looked up to him. It was awesome finally meeting him on my first trip going over there. I’ve always looked up to him, he’s like this big Olympian, World medalist, and there he was just standing right in front of me. It was like, Whoa.
5PM: Wrestling against foreigners is about to become a substantial part of your experience. What is it about that you’re looking forward to?
DK: I’m looking forward to just learning. I recently competed in the Sweden dual at the Superior Camp, and it is just different. It’s a different feel. The Europeans, they really know how to pummel and are kind of in your face. You don’t have time to take a break. They were really good at pummeling and I can’t wait to start learning and being able to pummel like them. I’m actually going to Austria a couple of weeks after folkstyle season is through with Lucas (Steldt) and Rob. I can’t wait to compete and learn at the training camp.
5PM: You still have goals in front of you for high school, then you have Austria, after that, the Junior Trials. Do you like knowing that right now not only is a new chapter starting, but you’re actually about to become busier than ever?
Delon Kanari: I love it, honestly. I feel like I’m busier in what people would call the “offseason” for Greco. I feel like I travel a lot more and I’m busy a lot more. I just love that busy schedule. I just love wrestling, I love it.