Remember This Titan: Tyree Sutton Becomes Keansburg’s First Wrestling State Champion
ATLANTIC CITY - With his life at a crossroads as a sophomore, Keansburg's Tyree Sutton nearly gave up wrestling for good.
"It was definitely rough because I flunked in school my sophomore year and didn't really take school seriously because I wasn't competing in any athletics,'' he said. "It was definitely a setback."
After winning a District title as a freshman, he was academically ineligible as a sophomore. Becoming a father of a son, Tyree Jr., before his junior year could have driven him further from the sport while being overwhelmed with priorities off the mat. Instead, it only fueled his drive to be the best wrestler to ever walk the halls of Keansburg High School.
"At that point, I felt like I didn't want to wrestle, but I want to give my son a future and wrestling is what is going to get me into college, so I had to strive,'' Sutton said.
The dark memories of those days have now been replaced by the bright lights of Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall, where Sutton's dramatic journey ended on Sunday at the top of the podium as the first state champion in Keansburg history. The Titans' senior won one of the most thrilling matches of the finals of the NJSIAA Individual Championships, scoring a takedown in sudden victory overtime to edge Holy Cross's Matt Correnti 5-3 at 195 for the title.
With the win, Sutton also made one more piece of school history by getting his 100th career victory, becoming the first Titans' wrestler to ever reach that milestone.
"I can't use any other word but 'amazing,''' Sutton said. "It feels good that I made history and it was my 100th win, so it's just amazing right now."
"Words can't describe it,'' Keansburg head coach Chris DeTalvo said. "It's pretty unbelievable."
Sutton is used to adjusting when life throws him a curveball, and the calm that he projects under difficult circumstances was instrumental in delivering him a title. After a scoreless first period between the undefeated wrestlers, Sutton rode Correnti out for the entire second period. It seemed like the perfect set-up for a win because all Sutton had to do was escape in the third period and hold on for a 1-0 victory.
However, Correnti was able to tilt Sutton and get three back points for a 3-0 lead that appeared insurmountable as time ticked away in the third period. It marked the first offensive points Sutton surrendered the entire season, and it was the first time he had trailed in a match all year.
"I was definitely shocked,'' Sutton said. "At first I didn't know who was getting back points until I looked at my coach. I hadn't done that all year."
Rather than let the moment overwhelm him, Sutton got right back in the fight. He escaped and then bulled his way into Correnti for a takedown on the boundary with only four seconds left in the third period to tie the bout at three. Correnti was trying to get out of bounds for a restart, but Sutton pulled him back in and then hit a lightning-quick shot to get the two points.
"There were a lot of things going on in my head, but mostly I was scared because I was down 3-1 with like 30 seconds left,'' Sutton said. "I drill those type of situations in practice all the time. My coach gives me 30 seconds, telling me I'm down two and I need to hit something. It was just repetition in practice, so I was prepared for it."
"You can never say it's over, but with those type of matches and how good that kid is, I thought it was over,'' Keansburg assistant Dave Alsieux said. "I saw it on his face (after he gave up the three points), but he's so dynamic when he wrestles that it's not out of the realm of possibility that he could've scored at the end."
Sutton rode that momentum into overtime as a stunned Correnti tried to regroup. Off a restart, Correnti took a shot and Sutton countered it, grabbing ahold of one leg before being able to snatch both of Correnti's legs and get him to the ground for the win.
"(Correnti) was more shocked that he got taken down (at the end of regulation), so he was definitely panicking,'' Sutton said. "I had to stay focused on the goal."
He then shared a long embrace with Alsieux, a former Manasquan standout who wrestled at Centenary College and has made Sutton his personal project for four seasons.
"I'm gonna get choked up, but I'm just so proud that I had the opportunity to be part of this and part of the Keansburg community,'' Alsieux said. "I'm just so thankful for the opportunity. Tyree sacrificed a lot. His life is a lot different than most people's. For him to do it, I think for me it's just that much more special."
Alsieux vividly remembers those days two years ago when Sutton's life and wrestling career could have gone off the rails when he faced that fork in the road.
"There were times when he didn't even want to come back to school,'' Alsieux said. "Everybody was pulling for him - teachers, his family, coaches - it was a tough road, and to be here and do this, it just makes it that much sweeter."
After the hug with Alsieux, Sutton then made his way to the front row of the stands, where a cluster of his friends from Keansburg swallowed him up in a group embrace. It was a joyous moment on the big stage for the Group I school from a town that is all of one square mile.
"I've got the whole town behind me,'' Sutton said. "There's a bunch of them here in Atlantic City, and they're blowing up all my social media right now."
"It's special for our town,'' DeTalvo said. "Not having that much of a history, it means a lot. We've had a solid rec program now for a few years, the middle school team is doing well, and for those little guys to be able to see this, it's awesome."
Sutton finished the season 41-0 and finished his career 100-14 in three seasons after missing his sophomore season due to academic ineligibility. He is the first state champion, Region VI champion, two-time place-winner and 100-match winner in Keansburg history. The Titans' record book is essentially his biography.
He said he will most likely wrestle at Nassau Community College next season as he gets his academics in order, but he plans on making it a one-year stop on the way to a four-year school.
"I will definitely wrestle at a Division I school,'' he said.
Don't doubt him, as Sutton has shown that he is a man of his word. He has been saying since finishing sixth at 195 last season that he was going to make Keansburg history this March, and on Sunday he delivered on that promise in spectacular fashion.
"Since freshman year I have been dreaming of this day,'' he said. "I've had some setbacks, but I knew I just had to stay focused and I could do this. Again, the only word I can think of right now is 'amazing.'''