In Bucks County, Pennsylvania, two young brothers wrestled on a cold basement floor, a space no larger than a dorm room, lit dimly by a light. Eventually, their parents wrapped the concrete support poles with padding and purchased a small mat for the boys to practice on.
As Matt Parker laughed and grappled with his big brother, he didn’t realize all that would come from his love for the sport.
Fast forward a few years.
Matt outgrew that small cramped basement and upgraded to a fully-equipped training facility, the Caruso Wrestling Complex at Lehigh University.
Matt, a freshman Lehigh wrestler, walks up the steps from the locker room to an area covered wall-to-wall with mats and lined with wrestlers stretching, chatting and prepping their head gear for practice. Matt is greeted by his brother,senior wrestler Scotty, and then prepares for his daily grit-filled practice.
As an active and competitive child, Matt’s interest in the sport began at an early age, and he’s always wanted to compete alongside his brother.
The two began wrestling after Scotty came home from kindergarten, excited and holding a youth wrestling league flyer. As a younger brother, naturally, Matt’s interest in wrestling also began.
“I would go to his practices all the time and just watch,” Matt said. “About a year after Scotty started, my mom let me join wrestling because she knew I was going to anyways.”
While Matt may have followed in his brother’s wrestling footsteps, he initiated the brothers’ interest in Lehigh.
After learning about the school’s academic offerings, campus culture and wrestling program, Matt pushed his older brother to continue his wrestling career at Lehigh.
“I was looking at Princeton for a really long time and was very interested in them, but (Matt) just made me look at (Lehigh) a little differently,” Scotty said. “Since he kinda convinced me to come here when I was getting recruited, I figured that he would end up coming here too.”
With Lehigh in close proximity to Matt’s home and his brother already on the team, it came as no surprise that Matt was receptive when Lehigh’s wrestling coaches began his recruiting process.
“I’ve been verbally committed to Lehigh since my sophomore year of high school and didn’t go on any other official visits,” Matt said. “Basically, the coaches started to talk to me, and Scotty was already here, so it was kind of a done deal right away.”
After committing to Lehigh, Matt made countless trips to watch wrestling matches and visit his brother. Scotty said Matt had an official spot on the floor beside his bed for the past three years.
Matt’s familiarity with the school, program and team created an easy and natural transition when he arrived as a freshman. In addition to seeing his brother as a role model, Matt said he looks up to all of the upperclassmen, especially senior wrestler Darian Cruz.
Cruz relates to Matt’s experience in multiple ways. Like Matt, Cruz wrestles in the 125-pound weight class, is from a nearby area and has experience wrestling on a team with a sibling — Cruz’s brother Randy graduated from Lehigh in May after wrestling with the team for five years.
“Having a brother on the team, one who is constantly in your ear and pushing you, there’s only good things to come,” Cruz said. “(A brother) is there for anything you need. To go to school with a best friend is awesome. I think that it’s a big growing year for (Matt), he’s got a lot of learning to do. I’m sure he is excited for it, and I’m really excited for him.”
With only one starting position available in the 125-pound weight class and Cruz coming off a national championship win, Matt is looking to spend this year as a redshirt and focus on gaining experience and growing as a wrestler.
Cruz is one of Matt’s main practice partners and helps him stay positive and learn from his experiences.
“I’m ready to push him, and I know he’s going to push me as much as he can,” Cruz said. “My biggest goal for (Matt) is to get him to do things that I started doing later in my career, earlier. If I can get him to pick those things up earlier than I did, then obviously success will come a lot earlier for him. I’m constantly giving him feedback and telling him that it’s going to be rough sometimes and there’s a lot of growing to do, but everything will be OK.”
The Parker brothers have only been teammates once before — when the brothers were in high school and Matt was a freshman and Scotty was a senior. The brothers are now teammates once again, and due to NCAA rules, Scotty will be able to stay at Lehigh for a fifth year of eligibility, allowing the brothers to be teammates for two years as opposed to one.
“Now that we are both together, I think that we are going to be able to be even more successful than we have been in the past,” Matt said. “It will be fun to see how much damage we can do on the team and how much we can dominate. I think it’s going to be great.”
In high school, the brothers held similar records and accomplishments. Matt believes his brother will serve as a support system and his presence will push him to work harder, rather than present extra pressure.
While the sibling teammate support he had in high school is back, Matt has to adjust to a new coaching staff.
“The coaching style (at Lehigh) is actually pretty different than high school,” Matt said. “I think (the coaches) bring a lot to the table and are always switching things up on how they want to train us.”
Coach Pat Santoro said the Parker brothers feed off each other and Matt’s focus and work ethic will lead him to success as a Mountain Hawk.
“(Matt) is tenacious, that’s for sure,” Santoro said. “When he shows up for practice, you can tell what he is setting out to do. When he looks at his brother, he isn’t pressured. He is able to think, ‘Oh, I can do that too.’”
Both Scotty and Matt will admit that they not only look alike, but talk and think alike. They both came to Lehigh to wrestle and are planning to major in finance. However, as a new wrestler at Lehigh, Matt has established himself as his own person and holds individual aspirations for his wrestling career.
“I did come here after Scotty, but I’m not trying to do as well as Scotty or be like Scotty,” Matt said. “I’m trying to do better.”