Sports fans are often overly anxious to appoint the next star. Competitors are showered with undue superlatives, and “once in a lifetime” athletes seem to come around every decade or so.
Occasionally, an athlete truly deserves all the positive attention. Those around the Virginia wrestling program believe freshman George DiCamillo can become one of those rare gems.
“It sounds cliché, but kids like George come by once in a lifetime,” head coach Steve Garland said. “There aren’t too many guys like him out there.”
The 133-pounder from Highland Heights, Ohio has demonstrated to coaches his mental toughness, positive attitude and a level of maturity belying his youth. DiCamillo combines these intangibles with an endless well of raw talent and a relentless motor.
Before enrolling at Virginia, DiCamillo starred at St. Ignatius High School. His 152 varsity wins set a school record, and he competed in the Dapper Dan Wrestling Classic and the Dream Team Classic, two of the nation’s most prestigious high school competitions.
Yet DiCamillo entered the 2012-13 season planning to redshirt his first year. Only when Joe Spisak moved weight classes and left a void in Virginia’s lineup did Garland ask DiCamillo if he wanted to forfeit his redshirt and aid his team. Without hesitation, DiCamillo rose to the occasion.
“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” DiCamillo said. “It was a scary thought for me at first, but I embraced it, I took on the challenge, and I’ve been doing well for myself.”
DiCamillo debuted at the UTC Duals in Chattanooga, Tenn Nov. 16. His second match of the day represented an immediate trial by fire as he fought Iowa’s Tony Ramos, an All-American and the No. 3 133-pounder in the nation. Although he lost 22-8 by major decision, DiCamillo approached the match fearlessly and earned valuable experience against a vaunted foe.
“He’s this big, bad All-American,” DiCamillo said. “I went in with the mindset that I would wrestle how I always wrestle and whatever happens happens.”
The encounter with Ramos would pay immediate dividends. DiCamillo ousted Virginia Tech’s Erik Spjut in a dual meet Nov. 25 before steamrolling much of an elite field at last weekend’s Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational en route to a surprising semifinal berth.
Eventually, DiCamillo lost in overtime to No. 2 seed Nathan McCormick of Missouri. He bounced back to claim fifth place, impressing Garland with his resilience.
“I gave him a two-minute speech about putting your armor on because the war isn’t over,” Garland said. “He’s up and ready to go a few minutes later. I would have been a complete wreck when I was his age.”
DiCamillo was seeded sixth heading into the tournament and has hovered around the mid-teens in most weight class rankings all season. Should he continue his sizzling stretch when the Cavaliers return to action Jan. 1, his ranking will likely continue to soar.
Many of the more experienced wrestlers are beginning to look at DiCamillo for leadership as the team heads into a month’s worth of rigorous training without formal competition.
“People are following his actions, and his actions are to train really hard, care a whole lot, and fight really hard for every point,” Garland said.
Though aware of his relative inexperience, DiCamillo is not shying away from his leadership role. “Knowing that they look up to me doesn’t mean I let up at all,” DiCamillo said. “It means I have to train harder.”