Mattituck’s wrestler with a ‘million-dollar smile’

Mattituck's Tanner Zagarino (top) wrestles against Raheem Brown of Riverhead Saturday in the 170-pound finals of the North Fork Invitational. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)
Mattituck’s Tanner Zagarino (top) wrestles against Raheem Brown of Riverhead Saturday in the 170-pound finals of the North Fork Invitational. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)

Tanner Zagarino has the face of a model, but the heart of a wrestling champion.

One wouldn’t think that wrestling and a modeling career would go hand in hand, but Tanner Zagarino has found a way to balance the two very different pursuits. 

Zagarino is a sophomore on the Mattituck/Greenport/Southold high school wrestling team. In his other life, he is a model who has signed with Wilhelmina Models of Los Angeles. He has appeared in advertisements and on television for the American Music Awards. He was in a music video that has over seven million views on YouTube.

Not only that, but Zagarino has fans — a lot of them — well beyond the wrestling mat. He said he has 440,000 followers on Instagram and 93,000 followers on Twitter. Acting may be in Zagarino’s future.

“That’s a million-dollar smile over there,” Mattituck/Greenport/Southold coach Cory Dolson said. “He’s got to keep that face nice and pretty.”

In addition to a face made for Hollywood, Zagarino, long, wiry and strong, has proven that he has heart — the heart of a champion.

Every second of a wrestling match counts. With the right move (or the wrong move), a match can turn in an instant, the proverbial blink of an eye.

Such was the case in the 170-pound final of the 18th annual North Fork Invitational on Saturday night. Zagarino was trailing by 3 points in the dying moments of the match and looked spent, but he still had something left in him. With about 10 seconds to go, Zagarino, the No. 1 seed, took down Riverhead senior Raheem Brown for 2 points and kept him down, picking up 3 back points for a dramatic 10-8 triumph at Mattituck High School.

“I swear to God, when it was over, I didn’t think I won,” Zagarino said. “I just felt him pushing into me and then my instincts kicked in. I hit a lock drop and put him on his back. I knew I had to keep him there to win and it was surreal. It was amazing.”

After securing his third tournament title of the season, Zagarino rushed to rejoice with friends and family members, some of whom were seen with tears of joy in their eyes.

“It was the most exciting way to win, not the best,” Zagarino said. “I think dominating the whole way would have been best, but that was quite a storybook ending.”

But there was more to come for Zagarino. Later, after all the matches were completed, Zagarino was headed for an interview when he was stopped in his tracks by the announcement that he had been selected the tournament’s Champion of Champions. “One second,” he said with a smile to a reporter before heading off to pick up his plaque.

In Zagarino’s previous two bouts, he pinned Arsen Cora of Connetquot at 1:40 and scored a 7-1 decision over Griffin Arcuri of Half Hollow Hills East to gain entry into the final.

Brown said he had never lost a match before in such a stunning manner.

“I just messed up,” he said, adding: “I got a little cocky, went for the body instead … and got tossed.”

Riverhead coach Wade Davey said: “It’s a mistake. You know, you’re winning by three with 20 seconds to go, there’s no reason to be attacking. We just got done saying, ‘Hands only.’ It’s a shame because he really had control of the whole match.”

Zagarino said he was exhausted late in the match, but that didn’t keep him from working. “It just goes to show that you never give up, and no matter how much time you have left, no matter how someone’s beating you up, there’s always a chance to win,” he said. “That’s what I love about the sport of wrestling. As long as you work harder than the other guy, you can win. That’s all it takes.”

Zagarino, who brought his record to 26-3, did pay a price for his rewards. The right side of his face bore marks and bruises.

“I need my face, and look at my face right now,” he said. In the end, though, he decided, “All of this was worth it.”

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