Adam Coon stands 6-foot-5, 280 pounds, and his aspirations might be bigger than his actual body.
The Michigan heavyweight has his aerospace engineering degree and is enrolled in the space engineering master's program at Michigan, with the ultimate goal being to walk on the moon someday. Just one problem: NASA has a height restriction of 6-foot-4. So unless Coon manages to shave off an inch somehow, he might be stuck here on Earth.
Coon has also floated the idea of trying out for an NFL team when he's done wrestling. If that sounds incredibly implausible, well, google the name Stephen Neal. The former NCAA champion heavyweight wrestler didn't play football in college, signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent and won three Super Bowls. And the NFL has no height restrictions. So ... there's a chance.
But before any of that post-wrestling career stuff, Coon must do something that is arguably just as tough as shrinking by an inch and then walking on the moon -- he has to wrestle Ohio State's Kyle Snyder in Saturday night's NCAA wrestling finals (8 pm, ESPN2). Snyder is the best heavyweight wrestler America has ever produced, with two NCAA titles, a world title and an Olympic gold medal. To put it in perspective, imagine if Usain Bolt ran the 100 meters for Texas Tech right after he won an Olympic title.
And yet, Coon actually knocked off Snyder earlier this year in a shocker, then Snyder returned the favor at Big Ten championships two weeks ago in an overtime thriller. So it can be done. It'll just take the best match Coon has ever wrestled to knock off Snyder, a 225-pound freak of nature in his own right. When Coon clipped him in the dual meet earlier this season, he did so by using his size and athleticism to stuff Snyder's aggressive leg attacks, which have overwhelmed the entire world for the past two years.
That sets up an epic finale to what should be a wildly entertaining last three hours of wrestling in Cleveland on Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena. "Round three with Coon ... it's gonna be awesome," Snyder said after the semifinals.
Here are predictions for all 10 weight classes, plus a pick for who'll win the team title.
No. 3 seed Spencer Lee, Iowa (25-2) vs. No. 4 seed Nick Suriano, Rutgers (29-0): What a finale in one of the most stacked weight classes this year. Suriano, the Penn State transfer, hasn't lost a bout this year. Lee has dropped a few, but he's looking like a freight train right now. Let's say 5-2 Lee after he tilts Suriano for two late back points.
No. 1 seed Seth Gross, South Dakota State (32-1) vs. No. 2 seed Stevan Micic, Michigan (30-2): These two had to work very hard to get here, which should fuel a fun final bout. This should be a very interesting contrast in styles, between Gross' dominant mat game and Micic's exceptional work from his feet. It's highly doubtful this will be a 2-1 kind of match. A hunch that Micic out-slicks him late on a takedown and wins, 5-4.
No. 1 seed Bryce Meredith, Wyoming (37-1) vs. No. 3 seed Yianni Diakomihalis, Cornell (37-1): Diakomihalis handed Meredith his only loss of the season back in December, but this one will be tougher. Meredith's offense has been spotty at NCAAs this week -- he'll need to pick up the pace in the final. But this feels like Yianni's time, by a 6-3 margin.
No. 1 seed Zain Retherford, Penn State (34-0) vs. Ronald Perry, Lock Haven (36-3): Perry is the first No. 15 seed to make it to the finals, and he'll be "treated" to a bout with one of the sport's all-time greats, Retherford, who's going for his third national title. A Perry win would be a historic upset ... but Retherford is just too much. Let's say the Nittany Lions senior by technical fall, 19-4.
No. 1 seed Hayden Hidlay, NC State (30-0) vs. No. 3 seed Jason Nolf, Penn State (29-1): Hidlay is the unbeaten No. 1 seed and one of the breakout freshman stars of the season, but Nolf is the defending national champ. Nolf missed the last few weeks of action before the Big Ten championships because of a knee injury, and despite proclaiming himself to be 100 percent coming into NCAAs, he looked just a tad less than that. But a 90 percent Nolf is better than 100 percent of the other 157-pounders in the country, as evidenced by his semifinal dismantling of Ohio State's Micah Jordan. Nolf wins by major decision, 14-4.
No. 1 seed Isaiah Martinez, Illinois (22-0) vs. No. 3 seed Vincenzo Joseph, Penn State (28-2): This is a rematch of last year's shocking 165-pound final, in which Joseph pinned Martinez. The Illini star looked every bit as if he was headed for a run at four NCAA titles before Joseph stuck him in a tight match. This one ought to be very close again, but Martinez holds off Joseph this time, 6-4, and ends his storied career with three titles.
No. 1 seed Zahid Valencia, Arizona State (35-0) vs. No. 2 Mark Hall, Penn State (36-0): In terms of talent and fan anticipation, this bout is right there with Coon-Snyder. Hall won last year's title after barely squeezing past Valencia in the semifinals, and the two collided again in an all-star exhibition earlier this season (Valencia won that one). If these two wrestled 10 times, it'd probably be an even split. So we'll flip a coin and say ... Hall is wrestling too well right now. He takes an early lead and fends off a late Valencia push to win his second straight championship, 7-6.
No. 1 seed Bo Nickal, Penn State (34-0) vs. No. 2 seed Myles Martin, Ohio State (35-2): Nickal is the reigning 184-pound champ, but Martin has beaten him twice in the past and is the only guy in the weight class who can hang with the funky Penn State standout. He'll do that again here before Nickal pulls away. Call it Nickal by a 6-4 final.
No. 4 seed Michael Macchiavello, NC State (25-3) vs. No. 3 seed Jared Haught, Virginia Tech (34-2): Haught slipped past Macchiavello in the ACC tournament final two weeks ago, and he has looked good at NCAAs thus far. However, in another coin-flip bout, Macchiavello edges out his ACC rival, 5-4.
No. 1 seed Kyle Snyder, Ohio State (20-1) vs. No. 2 seed Adam Coon, Michigan (33-1): Nobody has been able to thwart Snyder's constant offense except for Coon, and that won't change in their final battle. Look for another very good bout between two big guys who move like little guys ... but Snyder finds a way to land two takedowns and wins, 5-2.
Penn State's stunning Friday night romp through the semifinals put the Nittany Lions firmly in first place, and that's where they will stay. Ohio State gets to within striking distance with some medal-round success on Saturday morning, but Penn State's finals star power is just too much and the Nittany Lions win their seventh NCAA title in the past eight years by 11 team points over Ohio State.