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Emergence of Caliendo has Bison wrestling looking up with Gophers coming to town

Michael Caliendo may have a famous cousin in Frank Caliendo, but his talking is done on the wrestling mat with Bison

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North Dakota State redshirt freshman Michael Caliendo celebrates his dual win at the University of Nebraska.
NDSU Athletics photo
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FARGO — In the spirit of family, North Dakota State redshirt freshman Michael Caliendo wouldn’t mind taking a page from his famous second cousin, comedian and impressionist Frank Caliendo, on Friday night. He’d like to impersonate a national champion.

That would go a long way in NDSU’s bid to compete with the Gophers in the 7 p.m. start at Scheels Center at Sanford Health Athletic Complex. Michael has seen Frank a few times over the years but don’t count on him following in his acting footsteps.

“No, I’ve never tried people’s voices before,” Michael said.

What he has tried is Division I wrestling and so far, so good. Caliendo went 14-2 in his redshirt year last season, beating a couple of ranked wrestlers. He’s 5-0 this season at 165 pounds and ranked 13th in his weight class by InterMat.

The Bison will take their No. 15 ranking in the National Wrestling Coaches Association top 25 poll, the highest in their Division I history, into the match. Before this season, NDSU had never been higher than No. 19.

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In the wrestling world, it’s one Power Five opponent vs. another. NDSU competes in the Big 12 Conference in wrestling and will face the Big Ten Gophers in a dual for the first time since 2015.

“We know we can beat them, we just have to wrestle our match and keep our heads in the game,” Caliendo said. “You know, they’re the Big Ten and they think they’re better than everybody. We have to humble them a little bit.”

NDSU already turned away one Power Five opponent when it beat then-No. 8 Nebraska 20-16 last month. The 10th-ranked Gophers won’t be any easier, certainly, after they knocked off No. 5 Oklahoma State 18-12 last week.

It was Minnesota’s first win over the Cowboys since 2014. But the Bison seem to be in a different place than the last time they dualed the Gophers in 2015 — a 26-9 Minnesota win in a NWCA Duals regional match. That was held at NDSU’s Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse with the SHAC undergoing a major renovation.

The previous year, the No. 1-ranked Gophers smashed NDSU 35-3 in the NWCA National Duals in Columbus, Ohio.

The Bison don’t seem to be too interested in history lessons, however. For Caliendo, he spent last year being tutored by NDSU All-American Jared Franek, who will start on Friday at one weight class below at 157.

Caliendo said Franek “kicked my butt” last year in the Bison practice facility, but that mentorship was also good for him. Conversely, Franek said it only took Caliendo a few weeks to adjust to the college level whereas it takes most true freshmen longer.

“He came in tough,” Franek said. “Seeing him grow and having a guy like that close to my weight is pretty awesome. It’s super important in a team that is strong to have young guys step up like that.”

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Caliendo is the second NDSU fall-sport athlete from Batavia High School in Geneva, Ill., a far western Chicago suburb. Bison linebacker Luke Weerts is from the same school, and when Weerts committed to NDSU was the first time Caliendo heard of the Bison.

NDSU was the first Division I school to reach out to Caliendo. That relationship stuck.

“When we began recruiting him as a prospect, we knew we had something and whether other people didn’t catch it early enough or whatever reason,” said NDSU head coach Roger Kish.

And during that process, Kish was the beneficiary of some Italian cooking from Caliendo’s Restaurant & Bar, a business that the family recently sold. Michael was wearing a sweatshirt with the Caliendo’s logo before practice on Wednesday.

“His family was nice enough to share,” Kish said. “They were great.”

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Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
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