By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland has a storied tradition in football, but George DiCamillo followed another athletic path as a student there. It’s easy to understand why. He weighed 90 pounds as a freshman.
“I would never have made it in football,” DiCamillo recalled with a smile.
In wrestling, though, his size was not an issue, and DiCamillo became a two-time state champion in Ohio, winning at 112 pounds in 2011 and at 120 pounds in ’12. DiCamillo left Saint Ignatius as the school’s career leader in victories, and his success has continued at the University of Virginia.
A two-time ACC champion at 133 pounds, DiCamillo is ranked No. 6 nationally at that weight this season. As impressive as his accomplishments on the mat, though, are his maturity and character.
“He’s absolutely everything anybody would want in a student-athlete,” UVA wrestling coach Steve Garland said of DiCamillo, an economics major who’s interested in a career in business analytics.
“He takes everything in his life seriously. He takes his relationship with his parents seriously, his relationship with his family, his relationship with his girlfriend, his relationship with his coaches, his role as a leader.
“Everything in his life, from the second he gets up to the second he goes to sleep, is meaningful, purposeful and intentional. It’s incredible. I don’t know if I’ve ever met too many guys like him. I’ve coached a lot of studs over the years, but most of those studs didn’t have the mindset he has. They were kind of Hollywood guys that flew by the seat of the pants and waited till the last minute to do things, and that drove me nuts.
“George isn’t one of those guys. This guy has got his life together. He’s working on every single area of his life every single day, trying to be the best he can be.”
DiCamillo, a redshirt junior, and 197-pounder Zach Nye, a fifth-year senior, are the team’s captains as well as its top wrestlers. Like Nye, DiCamillo is fully invested in the program.
“One of the things about George is, he’s obsessed about helping everybody else, too,” Garland said. “So sometimes he’ll get caught up even too much in that. He wants to make sure everybody around him is doing what he’s doing, and that’s what great leaders do.
“I’ve actually had to tell him, `Hey, look, let me do that.’ I never want to temper his leadership and his gifts, but at the same time I almost want him to be a little bit more selfish sometimes, because he’s such an amazing kid. I want to see him max out on the gifts and talents he’s been given.”
Defending ACC champion Virginia, which is ranked 18th nationally, hosts No. 10 Virginia Tech in a dual meet Sunday at 2 p.m. at Memorial Gym. There is no charge for admission.
DiCamillo, who finished 33-10 as a freshman and 28-9 as a redshirt sophomore, is 21-3 this season. His losses were to Cornell’s Nahshon Garrett, Penn State’s Jordan Conaway and Ohio State’s Johnni DiJulius, who are ranked Nos. 1, 5 and 8 at 133 pounds this week, respectively, by InterMat.
Garrett soundly defeated DiCamillo, 11-5, at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas in early December. In each of his other losses, however, DiCamillo gave up a late lead.
In a Nov. 13 dual meet at Ohio State, DiCamillo had built up considerable riding time and led 5-2 late in the third period, but DiJulius rallied to win 8-7.
“Nobody saw that coming,” Garland said. “George was wrestling out of his mind in that match.”
Then, at the Southern Scuffle early this month in Chattanooga, Tenn., Conaway recorded two takedowns in the final 30 seconds to edge DiCamillo 6-5.
As disappointing as the defeats to Conaway and DiJulius were for DiCamillo, the setbacks encouraged him too. His mistakes in those matches are correctable, DiCamillo said, and will help him prepare for the postseason.
“I’ve told all of our coaches this: Those losses are more assuring to me that I’m right there to win a national championship this year than any win I’ve had,” DiCamillo said.
As an elite schoolboy wrestler in Ohio, DiCamillo was highly recruited. In the spring of his junior year at Saint Ignatius, he took unofficial visits to Lehigh, UVA, Virginia Tech, UNC, NC State, Northwestern and Ohio State.
“Beforehand, UVA probably would have been my last choice,” DiCamillo said. “People don’t know what this is all about until they experience it.”
He remembers meeting Garland in front of John Paul Jones Arena. “I had never met him before,” DiCamillo recalled, “but just his energy and his passion [were overhelming].”
And so Virginia became one of the schools to which DiCamillo scheduled official visits. It didn’t hurt that the Cavaliers already had several wrestlers from Cleveland, including Nick Sulzer and Gus Sako.
“I grew up wrestling around Gus and Nick,” DiCamillo said. “They were always bigger than me, but I always looked up to them. I knew of them, but I didn’t know them personally. But when I came on my visit, they made it feel like home for me.”
DiCamillo narrowed his college choices to two: Virginia and Ohio State. The third of his four official visits was to UVA, with Ohio State to follow. Before leaving Charlottesville on a Sunday morning, DiCamillo told his parents he wanted to commit to Virginia.
“My dad wouldn’t let me,” DiCamillo recalled. “He said, `Weigh out all your options. You have to make an educated decision. Don’t just go on gut feel.’ ”
So he visited Ohio State as scheduled, but as soon as DiCamillo left Columbus, he said, “I still had in the back of my mind that [Virginia] was the place for me.”
He had an immediate impact at Virginia. Competing at 133 pounds, DiCamillo set a program record for wins by a freshman (33) in 2012-13 and was named ACC freshman of the year. At the ACC tournament that season, he became the first freshman from UVA to win a conference title since Gage Short in 1995.
Throughout the year, however, a congenital hip problem bothered DiCamillo, and he opted to have an operation — a periacetabular osteotomy — after his first season at UVA, knowing an extended rehabilitation period would be required.
“I had the redshirt year [available], and I think it was just the best decision,” said DiCamillo, who’ll compete as a graduate student next season. “I probably would have been able to wrestle [in 2013-14] at 85, 90 percent, but not 100 percent. And I wanted to do everything in my power to make a plan, so that when I came back my third year I was 100 percent. And we did that, and praise God it worked out.”
He returned to competition in 2014-15 and won another ACC title at 133 pounds. HIs 28 victories were the second-most on the team, and he qualified again for the NCAA championships.
As in 2012-13, DiCamillo narrowly missed earning All-America honors. As a freshman, he went 3-2 at the NCAA meet. He was 2-2 as a redshirt sophomore. His breakthrough could well come this year at the NCAAs, where the top eight finishers in each weight class at the NCAAs are named All-Americans.
“The goal is to get on the podium and ultimately be on the top of the podium,” DiCamillo said, “but I think more so, I have to be true to myself and wrestle the best I can for seven minutes. If I do that, I think I can go with anyone in the country.
“More so than winning and losing, I just want to keep my head on straight and focus on one match at a time. If I do that and I give it everything I have, if I place, I place. If I don’t, I don’t. If I win a national championship, that would be great, but if not, I can say I did the best I could.”
Nothing DiCamillo accomplishes at UVA is likely to surprise his coach.
“I just heard a quote today from [head rowing coach] Kevin Sauer, who’s one of my heroes here at the University,” Garland said.
“It said: `The good ones don’t get burned out and don’t get bored with the minutiae and with the repetition, because the good ones are fixed on the process. They’re completely locked in to the process, so they don’t have any time to get burned out or bored because of the grind of the season. That doesn’t even exist to them.’
“That’s the type of kid George is. To him, every day is a day to get better. There’s no such thing as a bad day for Georgie.”