MERIDEN — Like any wrestler, he was a solo warrior on the mat because that’s just the nature of the game. As a linebacker in football, he had to hold his own because he was undersized for his position.
In both sports, Maloney senior Kody Talento made his individual mark in his four years as a Spartan. He won over 100 wrestling matches and twice led the football team in tackles.
Yet it’s clear Kody Talento prefers doing things in combination with others.
Ask him his top memories from football.
“I’m not going to remember as much my career, but the team’s career as a whole,” said Talento, who was part of three straight playoff appearances, including a run to the Class L state final in 2018.
“I’m going to remember Trevor Santiago, I’m going to remember Kam Moreno, I’m going to remember all my teammates and how we worked together to get those back-to-back-to-back years to make it to the playoffs, to make it to that state championship game.”
Ask him about wrestling, which saw a personal record of 108-37. Again, it’s the names of teammates that come tumbling.
“There are so many good memories I have from wrestling these past four years, from Demetre Carnot getting his 100th win to Demetre winning Class L back-to-back years to Nick DeBaise wrestling and taking second in Class L.
“And the friendships I’ve made — not just from my team, other teams in general. There are so many good memories I’m going to have forever from that.”
Even the interviews for this story fit the pattern. Talento took the first call while fishing at Giuffrida Park.
“Nothing yet. Missed a couple.”
Exactly one minute and 17 seconds later: “Oh, I just hooked into something! I just caught something!”
A giddy laugh.
“I got a largemouth bass!”
The team approach, be it literal or virtual, just seems to work for Talento, who graduates this year as one of the area’s most versatile athletes. He was All-Record-Journal in football and wrestling, good enough in both to legitimately weigh playing either in college.
The choice he ultimately made was, not surprisingly, rooted in a relationship. Talento will wrestle at Plymouth State College in New Hampshire, where he’ll be reunited with his first high school coach, Eric Bergeron.
His prospective course of study is nursing, and that, too, can be traced to team. Talento comes from a family of nurses — his grandmother Donna Dauberman, his mom Heather, his older sister Brandie-Lynn, an aunt, a cousin.
“There was also this one nurse when my grandfather was in the hospital before he passed,” Talento added. “He had such an impact on me and my family. It really sparked that interest of wanting to help people and make them feel comforted.”
A knack for comforting can come in handy for a coach, and Talento says Bergeron has it. Bergeron was coaching at Maloney when Talento came through the doors in 2016. In their two seasons together, a strong bond formed. Bergeron knew how to get through to Talento, how to motivate him.
“I’m a hard-headed kid. If I lose a match, I don’t give up, but I’m in my head,” Talento said. “If I did something wrong, if I screwed up a match and lost, Coach Berg wouldn’t yell at me. He would coach me through it and give me pointers and tips, and he would make me feel better so I would go into my next match fired up and ready to wrestle.”
“Making the adjustments and being willing to break through is always tough for any athlete,” said Bergeron. “Given the right circumstances, a little push can go a long way. I was just able to connect with him and give him that needed push and get him over that boundary of where he was.”
Bergeron notes that Talento came in with a solid foundation from Meriden Youth Wrestling and was also fortunate to get plenty of “push” from teammates like Carnot, assistant coach Matt Banas and, for the past two years, current Maloney head coach Joe Winoski.
Talento, though, puts great stock in his connection with Bergeron.
“Ever since he left after my sophomore year, I was interested in wrestling for him again because he had such an impact on my career,” Talento said. “I have a bond with him I don’t think I’d find somewhere else.”
That said, Talento did go back and forth on which sport to play in college. He entered Maloney as a wrestler and, over the ensuing four years, became a heck of a football player.
Despite playing just one season of youth football with the Meriden Raiders, despite weighing less than 170 pounds, Talento developed into a standout linebacker just like his father Neil, who played at Maloney in the mid-1990s. That legacy is what brought Kody out for football.
“I always compared myself to him and I wanted to be like him,” Kody said.
Talento thrived in coach Kevin Frederick’s football program. He was meeting new people. He responded to the style of the coaching staff.
“They didn’t just want to win; they wanted you to get better. I really liked that out of the coaches, and the bond made with teammates is what made me stick to football all four years.”
Talento made 124 tackles as a junior. He led the team again as a senior with 118 and was leaning heavily toward playing football in college.
Then came senior year of wrestling. Talento went 30-3 in the regular season, capping it with career win No. 100 in the Platt rivalry match. He went on to take the CCC Small School title at 160 pounds and place third in Class L.
The final season brought Talento full circle. Wrestling is back at the fore. He will soon be a freshman once again. And his coach will be Eric Bergeron.
There will be learning curve. College athletes are bigger, stronger and faster. In the eyes of his past and future coach, Talento is equipped for the challenge.
“He’s a determined kid,” Bergeron said. “He’s got that ‘I’m not afraid’ attitude.”
That mindset was indispensible in football. Talento is not one of those guys who plays football at one weight, then drops 20-25 pounds for wrestling. This year, he played football in the 160s and was between 155-160 for wrestling.
160 is hardly the number that comes to mind when thinking inside linebacker, even at the high school level. One reason why Talento had so many tackles? Opponents thought they could pick on the “little guy.” They’d go at him.
And Talento would make the play.
“Kody has that hard-nosed mentality that’s hard to teach. Either you’ve got it or you don’t, and when you’ve got it, you’ve got it no matter what you’re pursuing,” Bergeron said. “If you tell him, ‘No, you’re not going to be able to play middle linebacker’ he’s going to go out and pop the biggest guy on the field, or at least try.”
The psychological tenacity demanded of wrestling, where it’s one on one, aided Talento on the gridiron. Success there, in turn, amped up Talento’s confidence on the mat.
“It says a lot about his toughness and his mental ability to cope with situations, considering how much smaller he may have been on the football field than other kids,” Winoski said. “When he’s wrestling, it’s more of a level playing field because he’s up against kids his own size and, usually, nine times out of 10 — more than nine times out of 10 — he had the better skill as well as being a tougher kid.”
This season, if paired with a 160-pounder who wasn’t very good, Talento would ask Winoski to bump him up a weight class for a tougher match. It was football all over again.
“I have this mentality, ‘If I can break you, I’m going to win,’” Talento said. “I get that from wrestling. Wrestling taught me never be scared of how big or how tall an opponent is or how much better they are. Go in like you’re going to win that match.”
Talento not takes that attitude to college. An old coach awaits. So do new teammates, new memories.
“Yeah, I’m excited,” Talento says as the second interview for this story comes to a close.
“Catch any more fish, by the way?”
“After you hung up, I caught one fish and that was it.”