ST. CHARLES – Smucker’s Uncrustables peanut butter and jelly sandwiches feature images of gold medals on the box, but that’s not the reason St. Charles East sophomore Anthony Rubino eats them.
Forget any would-be osmosis from a company that sponsors the U.S. Olympic team. Uncrustables contain only 210 calories and just enough protein – six grams a snack – to almost be considered nutritious.
Low-cal, light foods are the currency of high school wrestlers such as Rubino, a 113-pounder who spent the past week dining on Uncrustables and other typical lunch table unmentionables in a bid to remain unflappable on the mat.
He’s as riveted by junk food as the next teenager, yet finds himself passing more often than not because his sport is beholden to a scale.
“Your mouth just waters, kind of, thinking about it. And you’re just so tempted to eat it,” Rubino said, “but you don’t want to, because you know you’re going to be that much over weight.”
In theory, Rubino could gorge on just about anything he wanted given the on-the-go nature of wrestling workouts, plus the additional early morning weight training sessions with his father, Tony, several days a week.
The IHSA even offered an assist last week, as the severe winter weather that canceled classes Jan. 6 and 7 provided a weight allowance of 4 pounds. Athletes receive only a 2-pound growth allowance under normal circumstances.
Once practices resumed Wednesday – on the eve of a stretch that featured three straight days of competition – Rubino was unfazed. He remained active with regular conditioning and weight training during what amounted to winter break redux.
“With guys like Anthony,” Saints coach Jason Potter said, “there’s no such thing as a day off.”
Sundays come closest. Rubino confessed to “pigging out” Sunday night after a day that began innocently enough – with a piece of fruit for breakfast and a run through the neighborhood. He later went to, gulp, Panda Express and ordered his favorite, orange chicken.
A meal most of his peers wouldn’t think twice about doesn’t necessarily give Rubino disruptive pause; there are wrestlers, runners and other endurance athletes out there who don’t hold back on soda consumption and keep Skittles in their lockers.
In the long-term, however, Rubino knows empty calories are prone to hold him down. Regardless of what dinner his parents and older brothers – both former Saints wrestlers – are eating at the family table, he usually opts for rice and a piece or two of fish.
“Being in shape is probably the best thing that you can do in wrestling, because kids eventually get tired, and if you’re in the best shape and then they’re tired, that’s when you put them out,” Rubino said.
Rubino enjoyed a rare breather as wrestlers from the Saints’ freshman and sophomore teams toiled for a few more drills Wednesday afternoon. Even as he sat along the wall, however, Rubino lent imagery to his ultimate goal.
A listing of the Saints’ all-time state champions is presented chronologically in a two-tiered panel display along the far wall. The top row includes portraits of Potter and younger brother Christopher, also a Saints assistant, who both won a pair of titles at 171 in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Rubino’s oldest brother, Brandon, a 112-pound champ in 3A in 2010, is the lone athlete pictured in the second row. The other four panels are black with white lettering: WHO/WILL/BE/NEXT?.
Within about 20 minutes, Potter had adjourned practice and Rubino has shifted from sitting below these words to wrestling in their midst. Brandon, home on winter break from Western Illinois, keeps score and referees while Anthony goes live with his middle brother, Ryan, who since has become an evening regular to a mat room he hardly left after his senior season last winter.
Wrestling binds the brothers just as much as it has bruised them. Last season, Brandon lost out on what his dad called “puppy love” when a college girlfriend fumed over his decision to watch Ryan compete at the state meet during Valentine’s Day weekend.
Three years earlier, Anthony’s heart pounded with possibility when he watched Brandon from a similar perch at the University of Illinois’ Assembly Hall.
“It’s pretty amazing. I still think about it all the time, you know. I want him to feel that experience,” Brandon Rubino said. “Being in the tunnel with everyone. The state champs. It was pretty wild. Pretty wild. But yeah, I never thought it would inspire him like it did. Trying to help him out as much as I can.”
Anthony Rubino, 24-4 so far this season after qualifying for sectionals as a freshman, finishes his extra work with sprints. He built his stamina from two to seven minutes, and soon will begin decelerating from seven to two as next month’s state series approaches.
At Saturday’s Batavia quad, he encountered one wrestler who likely will present a state series roadblock. West Aurora junior Carlos Jacquez defeated Rubino, 7-2, scoring a late takedown to provide the final margin.
Jacquez earned his first two takedowns when Rubino was on the verge of scoring, offering optimism as the season approaches its stretch run.
“I like where he’s at right now. He’s in there. I think that’s a kid he can beat to get on the podium downstate,” Potter said. “That’s one of the kids we have to beat in order to get that done. If we were nowhere near scoring on him, that could be frustrating, but we’re eyelashes away from getting those takedowns.”
Rubino also defeated Batavia’s Michael Doranski and accepted a forfeit against Schaumburg. Later that night, he and several teammates went bowling at Bowling Green in West Chicago, one of a handful of off-the-mat activities the Saints regularly use to unwind.
“It’s really important knowing pretty much every guy and actually being friends with them, hanging out with them,” Rubino said.
Besides, it usually requires a group effort to resist snack bar fare.