Eric Friedman is just like you.
He trudges across campus to get to the Engineering Quad.
He complains about orgo.
He goes on 10-mile runs every other day and lifts weights at 7:30 a.m., hours before normal practice time.
OK, maybe he isn’t just like you.
But then again, not even Penn wrestling’s own roster can boast too many stories quite like Friedman’s, even if the sophomore pre-med student hasn’t been able to log much mat time this year for the Quakers.
The struggle isn’t new for Friedman, who has been constantly searching for the perfect balance between the two equally strong pulls of varsity wrestling and intense academics since he first stepped onto campus.
“You have to be ready to step up to the plate in wrestling and you have to be ready to step up to the plate in academics,” Friedman said. “If you falter in one, it’s hard to not let that affect both areas.”
And at first, Friedman stumbled under the adjustment. In the Hutchinson Gymnasium wrestling room, the former four-time Maryland high school state champion went from a bona-fide star to just another freshman trying to make a name for himself as he moved up a weightclass from 126 to 133 pounds.
Under self-imposed pressure to make weight and simultaneously manage his course load, Friedman’s grades slipped - until he decided he wasn’t going to take it anymore.
“When I came in, I was very intimidated by Penn academics,” Friedman said. “Having some friends freshman year, at the end, when I really was struggling, and seeing that they could do it - I started to realize that maybe I could do it.
“And then I put in the time - I started studying in quieter locations. And as soon as I believed I could do well in school, I started doing well in school.”
Friedman gives credit not only to his tight-knit group of teammates and his coaches for his turnaround, but also to a far more common source of support for Penn students: his freshman hall.
“You can look at some of what they’re doing academically, and it motivates you,” Friedman said of his hallmates.
“[Friedman]’s really hard working when it comes to school, he’s a very driven guy,” said Engineering sophomore Kevin Procopio, a freshman hallmate of Friedman’s. “And it’s great that he’s very passionate about the things he does - very passionate about wrestling, very passionate about school.”
With his mind refocused and his academics in order, Friedman now finds himself occupying a depth role for the Quakers this season after picking up two match victories in his freshman campaign.
Yet despite sitting behind wrestlers like Caleb Richardson and Ken Bade, Friedman puts in hours of extra work, even when he can’t make practice due to academic conflicts.
“[Friedman’s] one of those kids where, if Caleb needs to work out at seven in the morning, Eric will come, or 10 at night, Eric will come,” coach Rob Eiter said. “He’s a good team player that way.”
That attitude has allowed Friedman and Eiter to build up a special kind of trust - Friedman isn’t the type to goof off when authoritative eyes aren’t looking.
“I don’t have to question whether he’s getting those workouts in,” Eiter said. “Because I know he is.”
Grappling on his own free time with Richardson, Bade and Jeff Canfora, Friedman is readying himself for his big opportunity, even if he still has plenty of work left to do.
“They take me down a lot,” Friedman laughed.
He’ll keep on getting back up.
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