Vinny Zerban, 13, of Cottage Hills is a seventh-grader at Trimpe Junior High in Bethalto. He delights in most things teenagers enjoy, but he has already found true love.
It’s wrestling. He continues to sharpen his skills for his favorite sport.
Zerban is one of the best young matmen in the country and it seems he’s only going to get better. Despite his youth, Zerban already has claimed 26 national titles at various levels. So it’s no wonder the 5-foot, 92-pounder has embraced grappling. It matters most to him.
“Wrestling is a big part of my life,” Zerban said. “I started wrestling when I was 5 or 6 years old and I can’t wait until I get to high school.”
That’ll come quickly enough — in two years. Zerban will get an opportunity to compete for a Civic Memorial High program that showcases a rich history, including Kip Kristoff, Southwestern Illinois’ lone three-time state champ (1982, ‘84-85).
This season, Zerban is wrestling for Trimpe and the Bethalto Bulls, a youth program. He also trains with Todd Laux at Pride Fitness in Wood River. It’s his second year of competition at Trimpe. He was unbeaten last season.
Overall, he was 152-6 a year ago and served as a member of the World of Wrestling All-Star team. He’s ranked No. 1 nationally in his age/weight class this year.
“He is very mature for his age,” said Jeremy Christeson, a former CM standout and the Bulls’ coach. “He’s an outstanding talent and he’s kind of ahead of the game right now.
“Vinny is a quick learner.”
Zerban’s wrestling success speaks for itself. You won’t find him bragging about what he has done thus far.
“He’s a super-quiet kid and very respectful,” Christeson said.
Mom Sugar Couch is his biggest booster, though sister, Izzy, 8, might playfully dispute that. Sisters Cali, 18 months; Amaya, 15; and stepsister Megan, 22, also are big fans.
“I like staying at home and playing with my sister,” Zerban said of Izzy. “I also started playing football this year and I like it.”
However, it’s wrestling that gets him going the most.
“My uncles, Shawn Bryant and Billy Bryant, have helped me a lot,” Zerban said.
He has participated in IKWF and World of Wrestling competitions from coast to coast, his mom said. Recently, Zerban flew to Dallas for a one-on-one match against Cullan Schriever, an eighth-grader from Iowa. Vinny lost 4-2 in the Texas Throwdown, but the experience was worthwhile. Zerban and Schriever were the only middle-school wrestlers invited to partake in the all-star competition.
“He really enjoyed it a lot,” his mom said. “He travels all over and he likes doing that.”
Zerban finished second at 74 pounds in IKWF action two years ago and was a runner-up at 79 pounds last year. He’s at 92 pounds for this season, though that doesn’t change his approach.
“It’s not really any different,” he said.
What could be a bit different is the competition, especially in the World of Wrestling Series. He’s headed to Oklahoma for the Tulsa Kickoff next weekend. It starts Nov. 20. Then there’s the Big Tulsa action at Oklahoma in January, followed by the Reno World competition next spring in Nevada.
“Vinny’s goal this year is to win those three (the Trinity Award) and win a state title,” his mom said.
Thus, Zerban is keeping busy. He likely won’t compete in IESA competition for statewide junior high wrestlers because those dates conflict with IKWF grappling.
“Vinny has a good balance in what he wants to do on the mats,” Christeson said. “When he needs to go out and score points, he will do that. And he is a good defensive wrestler.”
Christeson said Zerban has the ability and desire to join the ranks of some of the finest prep wrestlers in the Greater Alton area. It’s a matter of time, experience and improvement. Most of that will come with age.
“He will widen his arsenal and broaden his technique a little bit,” Christeson said. “Vinny understands where he needs to be and what he needs to do.”
It’s fun and exciting for Zerban. “I’ve been wrestling for quite a while and I like it because of the competition,” he said. “It’s one-on-one competition and I really enjoy that.”