UPPER DARBY >> Colin Cronin looked the part of a wrestler before he ever stepped foot on a mat. At age seven, he had a unique way of playing football. Cronin would run through opponents rather than around them. On the defensive side, he lifted ball-carriers off their feet with ease, including his current Upper Darby wrestling teammate, Max Livingston.
“That’s how I tackled,” Cronin remembers. “I picked kids up and slammed them.”
Livingston’s father took notice of the tackling form and encouraged Mr. Cronin to sign up young Colin for wrestling.
“My dad was like, ‘No, I don’t want to do that,’” Cronin recalls. “‘I don’t want him to get hurt or anything.’ Mr. Livingston had to convince him to bring me to one practice and see how I’d like it.”
Cronin came home from that session with a bloody lip much to the dismay of his mother. His father wasn’t too keen on the sport either. He played basketball, baseball and football growing up and thought Colin might do the same. It was too late, though. The younger Cronin was hooked.
“I was like, ‘Mom, I kind of like it, you know,’” Cronin says with a laugh. “It was pretty fun.”
He’s still enjoying his time on the mat. As a junior, Cronin spearheaded a Royals team that became the first in school history to reach the PIAA Team Wrestling Championships. Upper Darby also won its 14th Central League title, the most of any program.
On an individual level, Cronin, a 138-pounder, achieved two noteworthy milestones. He took home a fourth-place medal at the state meet, becoming the Royals’ highest finisher since Joel Edwards won the 189-pound weight class in 2001. And with a victory in the District One West Championship, Cronin became the first Upper Darby junior with 100 career wins.
“I didn’t really notice at all. I kept going with the flow,” says Cronin, who finished 42-3 on the season. “My main goal was getting on the podium at state. But you know, it was pretty cool being the first junior and stuff. Getting the 100 wins is a huge mark in Pennsylvania.”
So, too, is Cronin. He is the 2016 Daily Times Wrestler of the Year.
After its historic campaign, Upper Darby placed five wrestlers on the All-Delco First Team including Cronin, Jake Mejias (113 pounds), Max Livingston (152), Brian Kennerly (195) and Pete Augustin (285). Garnet Valley’s Matt Marino (120) and Nick Puliti (132) return to the team as both reached the state tournament for the second consecutive year. Abraham Charles (138) of Penn Wood is one of two Del Val representatives on the squad along with Interboro’s Eric Thomas (145). Penncrest senior Liam Frank (170) returns to the All-Delco team after missing the entirety of the 2014-15 season with a torn ACL. Completing the team are Strath Haven’s David Moore (160), Archbishop Carroll’s Nick Poulos (126), Ridley’s Nate Brennan (182), Episcopal Academy’s Blair Orr (106) and the Haverford School’s Mickey Kober (220). The All-Delco teams and Wrestler of the Year are picked by the Daily Times staff in consultation with area coaches.
Cronin still retains the take-down form he first perfected on the gridiron.
“I’m always the one to score first,” he explains. “It does kind of break your opponent. I can see an advantage against someone who gets down on themselves if they don’t score first.”
Standing 5-foot-10, Cronin is taller than most of the opponents in his weight class. He’s deceptively strong with sinewy limbs that allow him to out-muscle wrestlers with less slender builds.
“I actually don’t look like it, but I’m a lot stronger than most of the kids I wrestle,” Cronin says. “When I wrestle short, stocky kids I’m always the one picking them up in the air. It just looks odd and everyone is shocked.”
It’s a paradoxical effect that aids Cronin’s success. With two trips to state, his reputation precedes him and yet his appearance gives opponents false hope.
It wasn’t always that way. Cronin entered high school as the second-ranked 106-pounder in Pennsylvania. Then he hit a growth spurt.
“I couldn’t handle all the weight up there (at 126),” Cronin says. “I was so used to wrestling guys at 106, 105, 108. I was still weak. I didn’t have any man strength. I was wrestling these kids who were cutting down from like 140 going to 26. So I didn’t do that well my freshman year.”
By his own standards, he struggled. By anyone else’s, he set the foundation for a memorable career. Cronin went 27-10 as a freshman and finished third in the Central League. He improved to 36-3 as a sophomore on his way to sweeping the league, district and regional titles.
This year, Cronin traveled to Hershey with a 39-1 record, the lone defeat coming in the regional final. He won his first two bouts before settling for fourth at state.
The achievement left a bittersweet taste in his mouth. On one hand, Cronin appreciates the prestige of his accomplishment.
“Getting fourth place in the best (wrestling) state in the country is just amazing,” he says.
On the other, he felt embarrassed that he got pinned in his third-place match against Nazareth’s Sammy Sasso. Cronin stood on the podium wishing, and knowing, he could be a step or two higher.
“I was actually thinking that right before I wrestled for third,” he admits. “I was talking to my coach: You know next year this isn’t how I want it. I’m going to be on top of that podium.”
Now, Cronin enters what he calls “improvement season.” This summer, he plans to head to Fargo to compete in the best freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling tournament in the country.
Cronin, still early in the recruiting process, will weigh his future options as he pursues Chris Grill’s Upper Darby career record of 133 wins. He needs 29 more. Cronin hasn’t given that much thought, though, aside from a few jokes with his coaches.
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