March 1, 2017

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — In the history of University of Virginia wrestling, the program has produced seven three-time ACC champions, but never a four-time winner.

George DiCamillo hopes to change that Saturday in Raleigh, N.C., where he’ll lead No. 23 Virginia into the 63rd ACC tournament.

DiCamillo, who’s from Highland Heights, Ohio, near Cleveland, won the ACC at 133 pounds in 2013, ’15 and ’16. (He redshirted in 2013-14 while recovering from an operation to repair a congenital hip problem).

He’s now at 141 pounds, where he’s ranked No. 6 nationally. But his road to a fourth ACC title is fraught with obstacles. The conference’s other 141-pounders include NC State’s Kevin Jack and North Carolina’s Joey Ward, who are ranked Nos. 2 and 7 nationally, respectively.

At the ACC tournament at Reynolds Coliseum, Jack is seeded No. 1 at 141 pounds, DiCamillo is No. 2, and Ward is No. 3. During the regular season, DiCamillo lost by major decision (10-1) to Jack and pinned Ward in 4 minutes, 15 seconds.

Whatever happens Saturday, DiCamillo’s legacy in the Cavaliers’ program is secure. To head coach Steve Garland, DiCamillo belongs in an esteemed group that includes such former UVA wrestlers as Nick Sulzer, Matt Snyder, Nick Nelson and Jon Fausey.

“None of those guys hit every goal,” Garland said, “but trust me when I tell you, every single day they were making an impact internally in how they lived their lives. And so not only has George not been in trouble, he’s always the guy that’s [looking out for his teammates].

“He’s just a phenomenal vocal leader, and he works like a man possessed. If you win every single sprint and every single workout and you go as hard as or harder than anybody in your entire career, that’s going to make an impact. So that’s invaluable.”

A graduate of Saint Ignatius High in Cleveland, DiCamillo received his bachelor’s degree in economics last spring, and he’s now taking classes in the Curry School of Education.

DiCamillo has long been interested in getting an MBA, and he hopes to return home to Cleveland and enroll at John Carroll University in 2017-18. He’d like to help coach the school’s wrestling team while taking classes, and DiCamillo has applied for a position as a graduate assistant at John Carroll.

He’s trying to decide “whether I want to be in the business world or I want to be coaching,” DiCamillo said. “Wrestling’s given me so much. I know in a month after nationals I’m going to be like, `What the heck am I going to do with my life?’ It’ll allow me to see where God’s plan is taking me and where I feel most inclined to go, whether it’s the wrestling route or the business route. But either way I have options.”

Garland has encouraged DiCamillo to find his passion in life.

“It’s what’s in his heart,” Garland said. “I also think that Nick Sulzer would have been the best coach I could ever possibly have had, and he’s working for the FBI. That was his dream, and that was where his calling was.

“Just for the record, I think George can be the best coach anybody’s ever seen, just because there’s not a time when an athlete can look at him and say, `Well, you didn’t do it like that, Coach.’ No, no. He did it like that. He lived it out. He was a phenomenal wrestler, but he’s a phenomenal worker, too, and he’s just an amazing kid.”

After winning a third ACC title last spring, DiCamillo competed at the NCAA championships for the third consecutive year.

As a redshirt sophomore in 2015, DiCamillo advanced to the round of 12, and he made it back there last season. One more victory would have earned him All-America status, and heading into the third and final period of his match against Utah Valley’s Jade Rauser, DiCamillo led 5-0. But Rauser rallied for a 8-6 victory that ended DiCamillo’s season is excruciating fashion.

“The reality of our sport is that the success of a season is determined in one tournament, which in my situation kind of stinks,” DiCamillo said.

“I had a big lead and then blew it. It stuck with me for a while, but Coach Garland always talks about how it’s not about the end result, it’s about the process and who you become in the process. No matter what adversity gets thrown my way, in any avenue of life, whether it’s wrestling [or something else], I know how to deal with adversities now, and that’s something that wrestling has taught me.

“I try not to get wrapped up in having my worth determined by a plaque at the end of the season. I think I’ve grown so much as a person and a wrestler. Not to say that results aren’t important, because who doesn’t like winning? But I’m really proud of the way that this school has helped me change in a lot of different ways.”

After losing to Rauser in New York City, DiCamillo took some time off. Then he started training for his final college season. He intended to compete at 133 pounds again, and Garland planned the Cavaliers’ lineup accordingly. But a major complication arose early in the fall.

“I was doing my diet like I normally do in the preseason, and I was doing all the right things,” DiCamillo recalled. “I’ve done all the right things nutrition-wise since my second year.

“But it was two weeks till certification, and I was 148 pounds, with seven-percent body fat. I don’t want to kill myself my last year. I know I’m good enough to win at whatever weight I go at, and it’s not the weight cut that’s going to make me a national champ, it’s the improvement, and I didn’t think I would be able to improve at 133 like I’ve improved this year [at 141].”

After losing in the NCAA tournament’s round of 12 as a sophomore, DiCamillo said, he considered moving up to 141, “because I thought the weight cut hindered my performance a little bit.”

Ultimately, though, he opted to stay at 133 in 2015-16.

“The reason for me not going up, if I’m being honest, was just fear: fear of the unknown, fear of a new challenge,” DiCamillo said. “But going into this year, I wasn’t scared anymore. Because I saw the guys succeeding at 141, and I knew I was right there.”

Garland remembers walking into the wrestling room at Onesty Hall on a Sunday early in the fall semester and seeing DiCamillo putting himself through extra workouts.

“He was just sitting there miserable,” Garland said. “He looked bad, and it’s as bad as I’ve seen him, as down as I’ve seen him, and I thought, `Oh, my goodness, this is not good.’ Sure enough, a couple days later he got the courage to come into the office and he goes, `Coach, I don’t even know if [133 pounds] is physically possible. It’s not that I don’t want to do it. I don’t know if it’s physically possible.’ ”

And so, with Garland’s blessing, DiCamillo moved up a weight class, and other wrestlers were re-slotted.

“If anybody has earned the right to say, `Coach, I can’t do it,’ it’s George DiCamillo,” Garland said, “with all the things he’s been through: hip surgery, all the tough matches he’s won, all the things he’s done.

“He wasn’t enjoying his life, and this year what’s been nice is to see the kid smile and to see him happy during the week and not constantly focused on what he’s putting into his body. He can have a slice of pizza if he wants every now and again. That may only happen once a month, but he couldn’t do it at all before.”

DiCamillo will take a 20-3 record into the ACC tournament. His regular-season losses were to Jack, to Oklahoma State’s Dean Heil (3-1), and to Stanford’s Joey McKenna (fall). Heil and McKenna are now ranked Nos. 1 and 3, respectively, at 141 pounds.

His Jan. 29 match with Jack marked the first meeting between the two wrestlers, and DiCamillo believes his loss will pay dividends in the postseason.

“You learn a lot from wrestling every match, but specifically that match I learned more than I have in most other matches,” Garland said.

“I’ve talked with our coaches a lot about it … I think when I wrestle him next time, it’ll be much more a strategic match, rather than me just going hard for seven minutes. I would argue that against 98 percent of the guys in the country, I believe I could just wrestle and do my thing for seven minutes, and I’d be fine. But there’s that two percent” — which includes Jack — “where you can’t, and they’re going to expose your mistakes, and you’re not going to be able to recover.”

Garland said he’ll be disappointed if DiCamillo does not earn All-America honors at the NCAA championships next month. DiCamillo has high expectations for himself, too, but he’ll savor his UVA experience no matter how he fares in Saint Louis.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said.

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