Syam Buradagunta: The Midshipman Bound for Michigan

Syam Buradagunta: The Midshipman Bound for Michigan

Special thanks to American Gymnast and TURN for helping make our coverage possible.

Syam Buradagunta: The Midshipman Bound for Michigan

by the team at Inside Gymnastics

NCAA Championship week is shaping up to be a good one for Syam Buradagunta.

As the Nissen Emery finalist heads to Columbus, Ohio, hoping to become only the sixth Midshipman to ever earn repeat All-American honors, he can celebrate confirmation that this final competition with his Navy teammates will not be Buradagunta’s last NCAA Gymnastics competition. With official word that he’s been accepted into the Navy’s highly competitive (there are more than ten applicants for every one spot) Officer Scholarship Program, Buradagunta will take advantage of an opportunity to earn an MBA while competing a fifth, grad transfer year for the Michigan Wolverines in 2025. A circumstance so rare, Buradagunta isn’t sure anyone else has ever done it, certainly not in men’s gymnastics.

It’s a really amazing opportunity for me,” Buradagunta told Inside Gymnastics. “It’s only possible because of COVID, and I kind of love that it’s this positive effect of something so negative.”

The NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility for all winter sport athletes in 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on sports, which has led to grad transfers—athletes competing a fifth year at another NCAA school—becoming common in many sports, but not men’s gymnastics. But Buradagunta’s circumstances are even more unique, as the service academies don’t allow for fifth year participation, given students must complete coursework in four years, and post-grad transfers are extremely rare due to mandated military service requirements following graduation.

Inside sat down with Syam (pronounced “Sam”) to talk about his time as a Midshipman, and how he charted his own course to Ann Arbor…

INSIDE: What made you so intent on pursuing a fifth-year opportunity?

SYAM BURADAGUNTA: I love gymnastics. I love being around the sport. I love the community, and everyone in it. I just didn’t want to say goodbye. 

I feel like I’ve been able to improve every year since coming to Navy—thanks in large part to our great coaching staff. I just wanted a chance to pursue that for one more year. 

Personally, I’d keep doing gymnastics until my body gave out, but if I can’t do it quite that long, I’ll take one more year and be happy about it.

I’m not someone who is hoping to make it to the Olympics or be on the senior National Tteam. My focus is solely on college gymnastics, which has brought me a lot of joy already—I have absolutely loved my time at Navy.

INSIDE: When Michigan announced you along with the rest of their November signing class, a lot of people were surprised that such a transfer was even possible. How did this all come together?

BURADAGUNTA: It’s very uncommon, so it’s something I had to seek out and put together myself, though I had some help from my friends from other schools. 

I grew up with Matt Cormier and we’re very good friends. We were talking, and he told me how he’s taking a fifth year at Penn State, and I was like, ‘Man, I wish I had that option.’ 

I knew a fifth year at Navy was impossible, but that talk just started me on the path of looking for any possibility, through any program, that would both benefit my Naval service, and allow me to keep doing gymnastics. When I found out about the Officer Scholarship Program, I’ve been working non-stop since last July to make this happen.

They let about 20 students a year who qualify for scholarships go directly to grad school, and I’m competing for one of those very few slots, which are awarded based on academics and scholarship levels, not athletics. 

The plan is to go to Michigan, complete an accelerated, one-year MBA program and get my master’s in supply chain management, which works out well for me, because my Naval service will be in the Supply Core.

After I’ve finished my master’s, I’ll go for some additional service school in Rhode Island, and then it’s out in the fleet, wherever the Navy needs me.

INSIDE: What led you to pursue this opportunity at Michigan, specifically?

BURADAGUNTA: Fred Richard is a good friend of mine. We trained together for years, so that was kind of my ‘in’ with Michigan. 

I also talked with Penn State, for the same reason—my friendship with Matt—but it just worked out that Michigan was where everything came together for gymnastics and grad school.

A big motivator is hoping to be a part of a team championship, perhaps even putting myself in position to win an individual NCAA championship. 

When I earned that All-American spot, it opened my eyes to the possibilities, and I’m just focused now on getting everything out of my career that I possibly can.

I know I keep saying it, but I really do love gymnastics. I would have done a fifth year anywhere, just to keep competing, if I had that opportunity. But earning that All-American status gave me the confidence to reach out to a really good team, knowing I could contribute something.

INSIDE: What brought you to Annapolis out of high school?

BURADAGUNTA: I owe it all to [Navy Assistant Coach] Craig (Holt), and a coach from my old region, Tom Fontecchio. Craig was Tom’s gymnast, back in the day, so Tom introduced me to Craig at a time when I didn’t even know what the Naval Academy was. That lunch, as a sophomore in high school, sparked my interest. Craig and [Navy Head Coach] Kip (Simons) kept reaching out to me. I took my recruiting trip, loved the atmosphere, and Navy was a simple decision for me. 

INSIDE: Were you equally excited about the military aspect?

BURADAGUNTA: I don’t come from a military family, so it wasn’t something I had considered before. I don’t have any real experience with military service, but I had a teammate, Dan Clark, who was at Navy, and he spoke so highly of not only the Naval Academy, but what the military can offer you, and what you’re able to offer back to the country. The values really seemed to align with my life philosophy. It felt like the best opportunity not only for me, but for helping others. Really, the prefect combination.

And I’ve loved every second of it—other than the first six weeks (laughs).

Most any Midshipman will tell you, you have to make it through that plebe summer, where you’re getting yelled at a lot, which isn’t really my speed. But after that, I’ve loved it. 

I couldn’t ask for a better family than the one I have with this gymnastics team. I love the regiment, the structure, how everyone is very driven academically. Going to a school where the student body has one common goal is really uniting. I don’t think it’s something you can understand unless you experience it. I think it’s also very bonding. I’ve made many great, lifelong friends. 

INSIDE: What’s a typical day like for as a Naval Academy athlete?

BURADAGUNTA: 6:30 AM wake-up for your first obligation at 7 AM. Then breakfast, then you’re in class until 11:45 AM. Our first practice is usually around lunch for an hour and a half, doing some basics and conditioning, then another class after lunch from 1-2:30 PM, and then practice from 3-7 PM. After that, homework, then bed. 

And you just repeat that every single day for four years (laughs).

INSIDE: What makes your experience at a service academy different from other student-athletes?

BURADAGUNTA: One of the things that makes the Naval Academy experience unique is that, as athletes, we do also have daily military obligations. Like, even if your first class is at 9 AM, you still have to be up at 7 AM with your Company. 

Your Company are the people you live with in your dorm. So, you have to be up, in uniform, and formed up with them at 7 AM—everyone starts the day at the same time. 

There are formations in the morning, and at lunch sometimes, where we don’t have practice and form up with the whole Brigade instead. Every now and then we’ll also do things, like, march in parades for the city of Annapolis, just to get out and show support of the community. It’s mostly smaller tasks that hold you to a standard across the Brigade, and I do think that makes a difference. 

Another big way we differ from a regular NCAA school is that neither of my roommates are athletes. You room with the people that they randomly put you with at the beginning of the process. Athletes, non-athletes—we’re all jumbled together. There are about 40 people in your Company, and you usually live with them all four years. Sometimes they’ll scramble the Companies, just to get a culture shift, but they purposely make sure you step outside your bubble. I don’t think we have any teammates who are also roommates, which is a big difference from the non-military schools.

INSIDE: What have been the best and worst parts of the military portion of your Naval Academy experience? 

BURADAGUNTA: I’ll start with the worst and get that out of the way…It’s very by the books. I’ve never been a rule breaker, but I’ve had to become even more of a rule follower since I got here. You have to follow the rules even if they don’t make total sense, and I admit that has been a bit of an adjustment for me. I’ve learned to see the wisdom in it though, because a deviance here and there can really snowball down the line, and you do learn that we’re all just part of this larger whole.

The thing I really do love about it though, that I never put together beforehand, even after I decided to go to the Naval Academy, is that the military is all about people. It’s all about connecting with people, knowing people, helping people. It’s just the business of managing people, whether you’re a leader, or working for a leader. If you can connect with other humans and get them to trust you, the military might be a good fit for you, because you’ve already got a big step up. 

INSIDE: Have you found any gymnastics downsides? Is there less time to train, since you’re balancing not only academics, but also military training?

BURADAGUNTA: Overall, I would say we might have slightly less training time in the academic year, but we mostly find a way to get our two-a-day practices in. But the summers really are the big challenge because our whole team is not on campus. We can be anywhere in the world.

For my sophomore year, a teammate and I were in Japan for a cruise. [NOTE: A military obligation, not a vacation]. It can mean 30+ days completely out of the gym, which is not something we are used to as gymnasts. I think, for me, it was the first time in my entire life I’d ever taken that much time off. Last summer, I was able to stay and train for U.S. Classic, but that’s unusual. 

It’s a slight trade off, but the opportunities for new experiences make it more than worth it. I’ve been to Japan, Australia, San Diego. I did an internship at Johns Hopkins, helping with a rocket booster design for NASA. It’s been a truly fantastic experience. 

And most of the assignments are based on class rank: the higher your rank, the more you get to choose your duties. That’s something that appeals to me as a person who enjoys competing, and it’s a real incentive to work hard all four years.

INSIDE: Obviously, you’re still quite young, but are you considering a lifetime career in the Navy, now that you’ve experienced all this?

BURADAGUNTA: It’s up in the air. I’m leaning towards a civilian career after maybe five to seven years of military service, but I’m open. Like with gymnastics, it’s hard to stop doing something you love, so I’ll never say never. 

But I have considered the possibilities of what comes after my Naval service—something perhaps in defense contracting. As a Naval Supply Officer that’s a pretty natural progression and matches with my major of Operations Research.

INSIDE: Before you head to Michigan in the fall, your Naval service after that, and then whatever comes next, you’ve got one last NCAA Championships with your Navy teammates this weekend. How do you want to wrap up this chapter?

BURADAGUNTA: All season long we’ve had a team mantra of, ‘Better every day,’ and if that’s a culture I can leave behind, that’s something I’ll be extremely proud of. If that’s what our class is remembered for—that we strived to get 1% better every single day—that would be great.

In terms of tangible goals…Individually, I’d love to get back on that All-American stage and, as a team, we’ve got specific scoring goals we hope to meet on every event. 

My main role on the team is Floor Captain, which means mentoring the younger guys on your event, showing them what we expect in a collegiate environment, in terms of competing and work ethic. It also means I work with Coach Kip in picking lineups and tweaking training plans. Giving him that athlete point of view because he’s far removed from competing himself (stops and laughs) —I mean, not to diss Coach Kip—but just letting him know we can handle a little bit more or need to pull back due to XYZ. Just give him my input.

So, because of that role, I’m even more personally invested, and, if I can lead this floor team to meet or exceed our goal, I’ll feel really happy about that.

You can’t control how the other teams perform, but our goal all season has been to be a team that consistently gets to that 400 mark. We’ve had some injuries and other factors that got in the way of that early on, but I think we’re back on the right track now.

 I know the culture is there, and If we can do what we know how, and have a good day, it’s out of our hands where the cards fall, but we’ll be happy with our performance.

Photos: Phil Hoffmann/Navy Athletics

The 2024 NC men’s gymnastics championships selections were announced on Tuesday, April 9 here on The competition runs from April 19-20 in Columbus, Ohio, at the Covelli Center.

Watch live: Every NC men’s gymnastics event right here

The Men’s Gymnastics Committee selected 12 teams, five all-around competitors and five individuals per event for pre-qualifying sessions for the championships.

Stanford 417.025

Oklahoma 415.500

Michigan 413.038

Illinois 411.813

Nebraska 411.600

Ohio St. 406.413

Penn St. 405.175

California 399.388

Navy 397.300

Air Force 394.238

Springfield 392.900

Greenville 392.888

📲 Click for the full list of 2024 NC men’s gymnastics championships qualifiers

Advancing from the pre-qualifying sessions to the finals will be the top three teams and top three all-around competitors not on one of the qualifying teams, plus the top three individuals on each event not already qualified on a team or as an all-around competitor.

Here’s a look at the full championship schedule below.

2024 NC men’s gymnastics championship schedule

* all times are eastern standard

Friday, April 19

Saturday, April 20

The NC men’s gymnastics national championship dates back to 1938, skipping 1943-47 and 2020, with the first-ever championship trophy going to Chicago. Penn State and Oklahoma each hold 12 national titles, which makes them the winningest teams in championship history. 

The Stanford Cardinal are four-time reigning champs after taking down Michigan in the 2023 championship.

For more:

Men’s NCAA Gymnastics and the CGA: Why It Matters

Horse Race – Airforce Cadet Patrick Hoopes

Triple Threat: Kameron Nelson

Call it a Comeback: Oklahoma’s Fuzzy Benas


From 36 to 8, Fort Worth promises an NCAA Women’s Championship to remember! Will 6-time (2014, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2022, 2023) National and defending champion Oklahoma capture their seventh crown? Will LSU finally take the championship title they’ve been chasing? Can Cal capitalize on a record-breaking season? It’s about to be Go-Time in Fort Worth and right now, it’s anyone’s game.

Here’s how to watch it all play out, along with our look at the field of eight including quick takes from commentators Aly Raisman and John Roethlisberger, who spoke with the media on Monday.


Thursday, April 18th

  • NCAA Championships Semifinal I | LSU, Cal, Arkansas, Stanford | 4:30 p.m. ET | ESPN2
  • NCAA Championships Semifinal II | Oklahoma, Florida, Utah, Alabama | 9:00 p.m. ET | ESPN2

Saturday, April 20th

  • NCAA Championships Finals | 4 p.m. ET | ABC

Both Semifinal competitions are scheduled to be televised on ESPN2 with John Roethlisberger, Aly Raisman and Taylor Davis on the call. ABC will broadcast the final “Four on the Floor” on Saturday. Each apparatus will have its own individual stream with commentary. Samantha Peszek and Bridget Sloan will commentate the vault and beam streams, and Anastasia Webb and Kennedy Baker will commentate on bars and floor.

For our full NCAA Women’s Preview, Click Here!

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