SALINAS — There were scholarship offers on the table from reputable wrestling programs — just none with the name of Michigan State.
Yet, before Misha Lomboy accepted the Spartans’ offer, the Palma wrestler took a pair of visits just to compare.
“We tried to keep him level-headed,” Palma coach Isaiah Jimenez said. “I told Misha when you step on a Big Ten campus, you’re going to be blown away. So he saved Michigan State for last.”
As tempting as it was to remain in California, Lomboy wanted the challenge of wrestling against the best in the nation, committing to Michigan State earlier this week on a wrestling scholarship.
“There wasn’t one thing, it was everything,” Lomboy said. “The environment, sports facilities, academics, campus, teammates. The weather was a big change.”
Wrestling in the Big Ten Conference is equivalent to football in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in terms of the talent level that comes out of that conference.
“He’s not even close to reaching his potential,” said Jimenez, an All-American at San Francisco State in 2013. “He was a seasonal wrestler up until the last couple of years.”
Lomboy’s passion for wrestling wasn’t immediate. In fact, he hated the sport. His dream was to play football as a youth.
“I was horrible at (wrestling),” Lomboy said. “I was super scared in the seventh grade. I was a chubby kid in junior high that had not grown into my body.”
When the 18-year-old got into high school, he had a growth spurt. He got into the weight room, and slimmed down to a more chiseled 188 pounds on a 5-foot-11 frame.
“I really got into lifting,” Lomboy said. “Mentally and physically I changed. I gained confidence in myself. I still love football. But I was consumed with wrestling.”
Lomboy’s road to a scholarship had barriers in its path, starting with the pandemic wiping out virtually his entire junior season.
This season he went down for nearly three weeks because of COVID-19 protocols, followed by a flu that took him out of the Chieftains’ first two big tournaments.
Lomboy, who wrestled at 197, had dropped to 184 pounds, mainly because of the flu. Not all the weight came back. It took time to get back to full strength.
“It was the flu that threw me back,” Lomboy said. “I lost over 10 pounds. I lost muscle. I felt weak. My technique was horrible. The gas tank wasn’t there.”
Having had just a couple of wrestling tournaments over the last 18 months during the pandemic, the work that Lomboy continued to put in began to surface as he gained his strength back.”
Having finished fifth as a junior in what was labeled the COVID-19 state tournament in 2021, the senior finished seventh in the state this past March at 197 pounds — wrestling five pounds underweight.
It was at the state tournament where Lomboy began having conversations with Michigan State, which saw him upset one higher-seeded opponent, before falling to the No. 2 ranked wrestler 3-2.
“I’ve had Misha since the seventh grade,” Jimenez said. “The last two years, he’s put in a lot of work over the summer with us and bought into it. We’ve never had a kid go to the Big Ten.”
Lomboy, who also started at guard on the football team, was the first Palma wrestler to make the podium at the state meet since Jimenez achieved the feat as a senior in 2009.
“During the pandemic, I was lifting at least six times a week,” Lomboy said. “My technique as a wrestler improved. I learned about what to eat. I don’t have that gut that I had a few years ago.”
While Lomboy is expected to be redshirted his first season, the untapped potential that Jimenez spoke about was echoed to him by the staff at Michigan State.
“They told me I’m still raw with my form and there’s a lot of room for growth,” Lomboy said. “I’m guessing I’ll stay at 197. But I don’t mind cutting weight. Wherever I can help.”
Lomboy believes his strength and conditioning are already in place. It’s his confidence that he believes he needs to continue working on.
“Sometimes it takes a while for me to believe in myself, not just in wrestling, but in everyday life,” Lomboy said. “I have to work on that. I want this challenge.”