Mixing Things Up
Jan. 3, 2008
by Jeff Smith
Michigan's Eric Tannenbaum hopes his father Mitchell has forgotten by now the $350 he spent to help his son become the next Karate Kid. All the gear, the lessons...nothing was left out. But little did the younger Tannenbaum know that karate was about discipline and technique, not about contact.
"I wanted to hit somebody, but you couldn't," Tannenbaum said. "I quit after a year."
So excuse the elder Tannenbaum for being a little reluctant to outfit his son in his next endeavor of wrestling. When mother Michelle signed up her 8-year-old son in an Illinois summer park district program for beginning wrestlers, it was Tannenbaum's father who forced him to wrestle in his socks. He refused to buy wrestling shoes for his son until he proved to him that he was going to stick with it.
Tannenbaum earned his shoes, and what a return his father has seen on his investment.
Now a senior at Michigan, the Naperville, Ill., product has done just about everything except win an elusive national championship. He has earned NCAA All-America status the past three years, was the Big Ten Champion at 149 pounds in 2005, a NWCA All-Star in 2006, and a Cliff Keen Invitational champion the past two seasons.
Not only has he had success on the mat, but he has also excelled in the classroom. Tannenbaum was a first-team ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American in 2007 after earning second-team honors in 2006. He has been honored both by the Big Ten and NWCA the past three years for his academic standing and is currently working toward a degree in neuroscience.
Yes, neuroscience. A major Tannenbaum says will offer a "natural transition" into medical school following his career at Michigan.
Here is a guy who says biology was going to be too broad of a subject for him and molecular biology just wasn't cutting it early on. Fascinated by the mind, he then looked into brain behavior and cognitive science, before settling on his current major.
"From day one he said his dream was to be a doctor," said Michigan head wrestling coach Joe McFarland. "He knew from the start the kind of commitment it was going to take and I am impressed to say the least, that he has been able to compete in the classroom with the regular student body while maintaining our rigorous schedule."
For Tannenbaum himself, he admits to understanding how important academics were from the start, but he is far more focused on winning on the mat.
"It's always nice to get those honors," he said of his Academic All-America accolades. "I'm trying to get into medical school, so I knew it was always important to make good grades. But I'm always a bigger fan of winning. Earning All-America or winning Big Tens is always a little better feeling."
In a shortened redshirt freshman season in 2003-04, Tannenbaum posted a record of 18-2. He continued the momentum in his first full year with the Wolverines going 36-5 overall, including 15-1 in dual competition, while capturing the conference championship and finishing fourth at the NCAA Championships.
But as his impact at Michigan suddenly grew, so did Tannenbaum's body. As a sophomore in 2005-06, he struggled maintaining his weight at 149, and while he still earned All-America status with a sixth-place finish at NCAAs that season, he struggled to a fifth-place finish at the conference meet and boasted a record 26-11, one that Tannenbaum still has a hard time believing.
"I look back and can't believe I lost to some of those people," he said. "That season was the longest one ever with all the ups and downs."
McFarland was once concerned that Tannenbaum's strict vegetarian diet was depleting the energy in his system. So a compromise between McFarland and Tannenbaum was made following his sophomore year. The soon-to-be junior was to workout over the summer and come back to campus ready to make the jump to 157.
The only problem was that Tannenbaum was now too big. The excessive training and weightlifting caused his body to grow and fill out. A change in his diet, which allowed more protein intake, also helped. Once Tannenbaum arrived in the fall, a new plan was put in motion with the Wolverine All-American training two weight classes higher at 165.
"He trained hard and put on weight," McFarland said. "But it was the good kind of weight."
Tannenbaum says he was able to maintain his speed that he had at 149, but felt that he had much more energy when competing. He also feels that the state of wrestling today offers no benefits to anyone who is forced to make weight.
"I'm too old to make weight," he said. "I'll come out of practices now being two pounds over, compared to when I was 10 or 15 pounds over at 149."
The move to 165 paid off for Tannenbaum last season when he capped off a 28-3 season with another fourth-place finish at the NCAA Championships. He finished the dual season a perfect 13-0, scored bonus points in 11 victories, including team-leading nine major decisions, and was runner-up at the conference championship. Currently as a senior, Tannenbaum boasts an overall record of 13-0 heading into this weekend's Lone Star Duals in Dallas. (Check after Dec. 30)
"Eric is really one those kids that is a total package," McFarland said. "It's one of the reasons we were so attracted to him early on. He is one of those athletes that can do it on the mat and in the classroom. He's been a great role model on the team."
And not only does Tannenbaum provide his teammates with leadership on the mat, or in the airport or on the bus when he always has his school books open, but he also provides great music.
A fan of hip-hop music, Tannenbaum became involved in deejaying in the seventh grade after watching videos of popular mixers, including legendary Q Bert, at the World DJ Mixing Championships. After getting started with the basics of all basic turntable equipment, Tannenbaum nearly had another karate episode on his hands. He wasn't getting what he wanted out of his equipment, so he sold it, saved up some money, and bought a set of turntables that all the professionals were using at that time.
His hobby has turned into a nice little side business outside wrestling and medical school preparations. He has been offered gigs at local bars and clubs in the Ann Arbor area and has often played host at house parties.
Just like wrestling, Tannenbaum says that mixing is an art that you have to keep up with, although he admits that sometimes a sloppy performance on the mat can still end in a win.
"You can't be rusty when you are a DJ," he said. "It would be pretty embarrassing if you were messing up at a party."
After a full day of studying and wrestling, sometimes turntable practice doesn't commence until late at night. And in order to be ready for gigs on the weekend, the aspiring DJ is forced to master his craft in the middle of the week, often times long after his roommates go to bed.
"I'm kind of a night owl and sometimes I don't realize it is 3 a.m.," he said. "I'm pretty popular when we are having our late night dance parties, but not so much when my roommates have an exam the next day."
McFarland admits that while he has never seen Tannenbaum behind his turntables, he is often driven crazy due to the Wolverine senior always putting on music at practice. But the Michigan mentor doesn't mind, because it's just another passion of Tannenbaum's that he works hard at.
"One of things I know about him is that he doesn't do anything second-hand," McFarland said. "He pours everything he has into what he is passionate about, whether it is academics, wrestling or music."
Except of course for non-contact karate.
We all know how that ended.