Brian Realbuto '17
The 119th and final win of Brian Realbuto's spectacular Cornell wrestling career was among his fastest.
In 75 seconds, he pinned Zach Brunson of Illinois in the fifth-place match at the 2017 NCAA tournament, finishing off his third All-American performance. "I was very happy to get that quick pin as my last match," Realbuto said. "My knees were hurting, I had a sprained ankle, I felt like my body was falling apart. It was a fortunate way to finish." Fighting through injuries was nothing new for Realbuto, who was an NCAA finalist, three-time All-American, three-time EIWA champion and four-time NCAA qualifier. The New York native from Somers High School went 48-1 in dual meets and racked up a 119-19 overall record for the Big Red. "Wrestling is a sport with an individual nature that allows you to find out who you are as a person," he said. "Even without injuries, you're forced to dig deep out there yourself on the mat. It's similar to the role of an entrepreneur. When your back is against the wall, you have to figure it out. It's the reason my dad got me involved in the sport at a young age; he knew I would be well suited to start my own business or get involved in an entrepreneurial environment. The ability to constantly improve and grow is something I learned in wrestling and Cornell wrestling specifically embodied that." Realbuto focused on entrepreneurship while an AEM (Applied Economics and Management) major at Cornell, while also taking a number of courses in food science and food industry management. He appreciated the hands on, real-life experience he received in his classes, including working directly with a company on a beef jerky-like item and especially starting the company Sancha, which produced a green tea beverage. "In one of my entrepreneurship courses, we were tasked with coming up with a product and developing the business plan and marketing. We created Sancha when I was a senior at Cornell. We sold the product on Cornell's campus and also to a distributor for other college campuses in New York and grocery stores in the Northeast. We produced and sold for about two and a half years until it came to a point where we needed a new round of funding." At that point, his partner was a full-time attorney and Realbuto had already started to work in his family's business, Wonder Meats, which he chose to focus on entirely. He is currently the Vice President of Sales and Operations. "We've had a lot of change recently, with a number of acquisitions," Realbuto said. "We've bought up smaller companies and expanded to ship product all over the country after previously selling primarily in the Northeast. So, with all these changes, I feel like I'm using entrepreneurial skills since it has a similar feel to starting a business." Working with Realbuto are former Big Red wrestlers Dylan Realbuto '18 and Ty Walter '19. Another Realbuto brother, Colin, currently wrestles for the University of Northern Iowa -- and Italy. Brian also considered representing the country of his grandfather's birth. "When the pandemic was happening, I got Italian citizenship. Honestly, I loved competing, so that drew me to the idea of it," he said. "I toyed with the idea of coming back. Competing at that international level would’ve been exciting. But I didn't know how my body would hold up two ACL surgeries later and it's a full-time job. I already have a full-time job. I didn't feel I could fully invest in wrestling." He was fully invested in wrestling and academics with the Big Red and he was a factor on the national scene right away. At his first NCAA tournament at 157 pounds as a freshman, he won his initial two bouts to set up a meeting with defending NCAA Champion Derek St. John of Iowa in the quarters. Realbuto dominated, winning an 11-4 decision that he calls his most memorable victory. (Although he said his losses were still probably more memorable). He then suffered a severe knee injury early in the semis against eventual champ Alex Dieringer of Oklahoma State but managed to put points on the board in a close loss. A long recovery ensued. "It was tough, but a lot of athletes have injuries," Realbuto said. "You just have to deal with it. Fortunately, I felt confident in the plan the Cornell coaches put in place for me to come back. At no point did I doubt I would be back as a sophomore. In a way, that break from wrestling invigorated me. Being so close as a freshman - wrestling Dieringer well despite the injury - I knew I was at that level. There was a hunger there and a lot of motivation." He had another outstanding campaign, making his way all the way to the NCAA finals bout versus Isaiah Martinez of Illinois as a sophomore. Realbuto earned six top 10 victories and won 20 matches in a row in a 23-3 campaign. And he picked up where he left off as a junior, despite jumping from 157 to 174 pounds. But once again, a torn ACL struck at the Nationals. In fact, this time it was ACL and MCL tears during his first-round contest. He wasn't able to wrestle back and it was the only time he didn't make the podium. (He finished 33-5 that year). "Mentally coming back from that was more challenging," he said. "I tried to dig deep - senior year, one more shot, two bad knees, up at 174 with stronger guys. That's why wrestling is the best sport for mental toughness and dealing with adversity. It prepares you for the challenges of life." He again excelled, compiling a 27-3 mark, winning his third conference crown and ending with the quick pin of Brunson. The Big Red finished in the top 8 as a team during all four years of Realbuto's career with a stellar class including student athletes such as Mark Grey, Dylan Palacio, and Gabe Dean. "I knew coming into the program that Cornell was looking to be the best," Realbuto said. "Cornell is one of only a few programs that can say a national championship is a realistic goal. We really thought we'd get there. I couldn't have asked for a better squad." What does he think about when he looks back at his years in Ithaca? "What I miss the most is being a part of the culture and being in the environment," he said. "Cornell wrestling is unique with student athletes pushing themselves not only in the wrestling room but also academically. When you put a lot of really smart people together and have them working toward a similar goal, great things happen and it's really fun to be a part of it. Having that environment day in and day out was so special. The friendships I made will last forever. Other programs have dedicated individuals on the mat; some have high academic achievers. It's typically one or the other. Cornell is the best at doing both." Realbuto, whose wife Jacque graduated from Cornell as an undergrad and with a Masters degree, still feels a strong link to his alma mater. "Cornell's alumni network is significantly larger and broader than other Ivies and once you're a part of the Cornell family, you have access to that network," he said. "It's a very close-knit alumni group. I have relationships with Steve Bosak, Mack Lewnes, Kyle Dake, and people who go back years before my time. When you come out of the Cornell program, there's a plethora of people to be mentors. Everyone's been there, through the same grind, and is willing to help."
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