Nutley wrestler makes instant impact — ATHLETE OF THE WEEK

Brandon Toranzo Photo by Jason Bernstein

Brandon Toraznzo’s initial introduction to wrestling wasn’t necessarily an easy one. Such early struggles are certainly understandable in retrospect as his first and most common early foe on the mat was his older brother Michael.

“There were days I wouldn’t want to walk into practice, especially going against my brother, who is probably the most aggressive wrestler I’ve ever gone up against in my life,” said Brandon, about Michael, a redshirt freshman at Rutgers. “And since it’s brother on brother competition, he’s never going to go easy on me. There’s a big toughness factor that he gave me.”

The start of Brandon’s high school varsity career has done quite a bit differently.

Toranzo, who transferred back home to Nutley High School from St. Joseph Regional less than two months ago, has started his junior season with a perfect 9-0 record at heavyweight for the Maroon Raiders. Six of those wins were by pin and in both the Kearny Holiday Tournament and Rahway Holiday Tournament, Toranzo was selected as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler.

Toranzo’s early dominance makes him The Observer Athlete of the Week, the first recipient for the winter sports season.

The performance is all the more eye-opening when it comes with the realization that due to a torn ACL in his right knee as well as playing football at St. Joseph, Toranzo only returned to competitive wrestling about seven weeks ago.

“I knew that coming into the season I was going to be under the radar, especially coming back from a torn ACL where I missed the whole season last year and I couldn’t compete in any of the offseason tournaments,” said Toranzo. “But when I came into this season, I knew I was ready to go and I knew I had something to prove.”

Toranzo was certainly well prepared for the moment from all of his years practicing against his brother as well as his former St. Joseph teammate Jimmy Mullen, a Kearny native and two-time state champion heavyweight.

The two spent plenty of time going against each other in St. Joseph’s wrestling room and still train together three nights a week at DC Trained in Paramus.

“I’ve been wrestling with Jimmy my whole life and he’s definitely a big factor in why I’ve been doing so good in the beginning of the season,” Toranzo said. “He’s such an agile and fast heavyweight. I really am inspired to be just like him.”

All of the hours training against Mullen and his older brother Michael, who took third in the state his senior season at 220 pounds, has definitely influenced Brandon’s style on the mat.

Like them, Brandon wrestles like a lighter weight due to his exceptional quickness and agility. That, combined with his strength from years as a powerlifter, make Brandon Toranzo an especially challenging opponent.

“At a young age, I had the classic heavyweight look, but as a I saw my brother evolve and watched Jimmy wrestle my whole life, I changed,” Toranzo said. “They always wrestled like they were 160, 170 pounds so that inspired me to wrestle just like that. I feel like that’s always worked to my abilities as a big, athletic kid.”

“He is extremely strong for a teenager his size,” said Nutley head coach Mike DiPiano. “He’s extremely, extremely athletic. He’s strong as an ox, fast. He doesn’t wrestle like a heavyweight, he wrestles like a (150 pounder), he can move. So he’s really got the whole package.”

DiPiano compares Toranzo to another all-time great from the area, his younger brother Mike, who won 189 matches and was a multi-time High School All-American at St. Benedict’s.

Despite Toranzo’s early success, the junior is far from satisfied. The two Most Outstanding Wrestlers are merely the start of the lofty goals he has set forth for himself this season.

“I definitely want an undefeated regular season, a district title, a regional title,” Toranzo said. “And I want to go out there and compete at states and place at least top three or top five.”

Learn more about the writer ...

Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer

Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)