As a freshman, Riverside-Brookfield High School senior John Szydlo simply needed something to do.
Wrestling? Szydlo went to tryouts with no previous experience.
“It was like a spur of the moment. It was like the day of it [that I decided],” Szydlo said.
“I just came out because all of my friends were playing sports and I wasn’t. It was kind of difficult at first and I just stuck with it. [RBHS head coach Mike Boyd] came and I practiced more over the summer and then here I am now.”
On Saturday, Szydlo was the champion at 145 pounds at the R-B Class 2A Individual Regional. The Bulldogs had six champions and advanced nine wrestlers to the De La Salle Sectional with top-three finishes and also won their third consecutive regional team title (208 points).
Wrestling? It’s now Szydlo’s primary activity that he juggles with a schedule that includes four advanced placement classes.
“He’s a tall 145 pounder [at 5-foot-11]. He’s a muscular 145 pounder,” Boyd said. “He’s a leader on the team, leader in the classroom.”
Szydlo has a team-best 30-2 record with regionals his fifth tournament title. Now he’s seeking his first state berth with a top-four sectional finish.
In the regional final, Szydlo edged Kennedy junior Jorge Heredia 3-2 after a scoreless first two periods. Last year, Szydlo was second in regionals at 145 and pinned in the final.
“[Regionals] means a lot. I didn’t win it last year. That kind of [stunk] so now it feels good to win one finally,” Szydlo said. “There are a couple of guys that are ranked at sectionals so hopefully I can pull those matches out. I’m feeling pretty confident.”
Last spring, Szydlo could have continued being part of the baseball program but instead chose to pursue off-season training with the Relentless Pursuit Wrestling Camps based out of Oak Park and River Forest High School. Boyd was an assistant coach for two years at OPRF prior to becoming the Bulldogs’ coach last season.
“We wrestled freestyle, Greco [Roman] all summer and John just came back an animal,” Boyd said. “He’s not freakishly athletic. He’s just a hard worker. I’ve never coached a kid like him. With his high IQ, I just tell him what to do during matches and he just does it.”
Szydlo has been winning – a lot – even while spending part of the season at 152, the next higher weight class.
Last season, Szydlo had his first winning season at 24-14. He won his first sectional match but lost his next two.
“It motivated me to get better,” Szydlo said. “Not qualifying for state and losing my two matches, I just want to do better now.”
Szydlo’s offseason provided roughly 100 additional matches to become especially a better wrestler on his feet. This season, he leads the Bulldogs in takedowns.
Szydlo’s three tournament titles and only two losses at 152 also have helped upon returning to 145.
“The guys do seem lighter now. If I can hit the moves on those  guys, on lighter guys it’s pretty much easier,” Szydlo said. “We pretty much practice all year round and the improvements are finally paying off.”
Szydlo plans to study chemical engineering at the University of Illinois or Minnesota. Szydlo hopes that combining that intelligence with his improved skills can add up to a great wrestling finish.
“He’s got to elevate his game at sectionals, but we know about those guys. These other guys don’t know about John Szydlo,” Boyd said. “He has a really unique style that’s hard to coach against. He goes out there fearless.”