Third-year wrestler Steve Bonsall prefers to be “the unsuspecting underdog”—a role he has played sparingly in his collegiate wrestling career. In his rookie campaign, Bonsall garnered All-American honors with an eighth-place finish at the NCAA Championships and an overall record of 33–14. He followed up that impressive debut season with a record of 17–3 as a second-year, and this season, he currently sits at 18–3. He is considered one of the top contenders to win the individual national title at 157 pounds during the NCAA championships in March, according to d3wrestle.com.
“Being very highly ranked throughout the season has put a lot of pressure on me. Quite honestly, I think I make far more mistakes when I think about what I am ranked…. Now that those [underdog] days are behind me, I need to train harder and adapt to the new position I’m in to beat opponents,” Bonsall stated.
Despite all of the individual attention and accolades, Bonsall remains firmly grounded in the importance of team success. When asked of his goals for the remainder of this season and next, he immediately pointed to leaving a program-wide legacy. Under Bonsall’s leadership, the team has captured back-to-back UAA Championships (2018, 2019) and ascended the national rankings, currently coming in at No. 24, but Bonsall is, characteristically, hungry for more.
“I want to be a part of the success that the University of Chicago wrestling program has never seen before…. I want to see our wrestling team in the top 10 in the country, and I’m so psyched at the growth the team has had over the past years to make that happen,” he said.
Bonsall found that wrestling best suited his instinctual competitive fire. He loves wrestling, although it can be hard to explain why to an outsider. He suspects that it is the attitude and type of person that wrestling attracts that has kept him on the mat for so long. He said, “To fight, never quit, and not having to share your success with everyone else. I work hard for my team and coaches, but the majority of my motivation really comes from wanting to do my best.”
Despite Bonsall’s seemingly unflagging focus, he is not immune to superstition. Dedicated to routine, he warms up the same way before every match and packs his food in the same manner after every weigh-in (three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, two cut into cubes and one cut into diamonds). The most important step is to take a shot of honey from a honey bear, a pre-match ritual since his senior year in high school.
Much of Bonsall’s leadership stems from his energy and unbridled passion for the sport. “I really don’t think I would need to be scouted for very long to see how much energy I try to bring to the room. The sport is so tough it’s sometimes hard to get excited about it! But if anyone would be howling and growling at practice at 7 a.m. to get some hype going, it’d be me,” Bonsall said.
Bonsall admits that he “had my doubts about UChicago” as he searched for a “school with a great wrestling program and an excellent academic reputation.” Nowadays, though, the economics major and proud Maroon says, “UChicago has paved a future for me like no other school in the country could.”
He attributes much of his success, today and in the future, to the discipline necessary to be a wrestler and student-athlete at Chicago. He describes a grueling athletic schedule: “I see being an athlete as adding two more classes; we practice two to three hours a day, compete from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays, adhere to strict diets and allocate a few hours a week to five or six pounds.”
Like many collegiate athletes, Bonsall finds support and inspiration in his teammates, on and off the mat. His teammates are always willing to help each other with school work and class selection, easing the individual burden. He said, “Without the help they give me, I’d be a sunk ship a long time ago.” Bonsall, though, feels that the community of the wrestling program extends far beyond the athletic and academic realms: “The intelligence and sheer perfection of my peers has certainly pushed me to be a better person.”