Senior kicks off season with quick pin
Daryl Cocozzo wastes no time in getting to the point.
Look no further than Saturday's Oklahoma Gold Tournament, where the senior pinned Maryland's Danny Orem in a mere 34 seconds to realize that he isn't going to wait around.
But after the tournament concluded and the award for Fastest Pin was handed out, even Cocozzo took a moment to pause and reflect.
"I had never won that award before, so I was pretty pumped for that," said Cocozzo, whose quick pin bested the nearest competitor by nine seconds for the fastest fall. "In college, that was definitely one of my fastest pins."
The Rutgers wrestling team boasts pinning prowess throughout the entire lineup, although it is not something the Scarlet Knights stress in the practice room.
"We don't really work on pinning too much — if it all — in practice," said senior heavyweight DJ Russo. "Some guys just have a nose for it while others concentrate more on just trying to score points."
Wrestling in arguably the toughest weight class in the EIWA at 157 pounds, a fast start is essential for Cocozzo as he begins his final season.
The conference has wrestlers peppered up and down the national rankings in the 157-pound weight class, with Cocozzo at No. 18, Steve Fittery of American at No. 2 and Bryce Saddoris of Navy at No. 9.
"[The 157 weight class] is always tough. Those middle weight classes are always stacked," the River Edge, N.J., native said. "Obviously, the top guy is Fittery, who I only lost to by a point or two last year, and Saddoris is good too. I think that if I keep working hard, I can win it."
An EIWA Championship would be the pinnacle of a collegiate career that began for Cocozzo outside the state limits of New Jersey, but will end with the State University of New Jersey.
After a successful high school campaign, Cocozzo wrestled for three years for Edinboro, but transferred home to Rutgers so he could compete in front of his greatest supporters.
"It's great getting the opportunity to finish out my career at Rutgers rather than at Edinboro," he said. "My family gets to see me wrestle, which is very important to me. I'm psyched to have a really good season both individually and as a team."
In his first season on the Banks, Cocozzo amassed a 12-1 record in dual meets, falling only to Harvard's J.P. O'Conner, the then-No. 1 wrestler in the country at 157 pounds.
The coaching staff saw the strides during the offseason by Cocozzo, knowing that this is his final year.
"He's done a great job," said head coach Scott Goodale. "I think he knows that this is his last time around. I like the way he's bounced back, and he's certainly going to be tested this year."
Cocozzo already has five wins in six tries this season, including a major decision, a technical fall and two pins. His only loss came to Clarion's James Fleming in the semifinals of the Oklahoma Gold Tournament.
"Overall, I was happy with my performance [in the tournament]," Cocozzo said. "There was one match that kind of slipped away from me. I think I was better than that kid, but I just made one mistake that I know I can fix."
With no more following seasons on the horizon, the two-time NCAA qualifier reminds himself constantly in the practice room that there is little room for error.
"Everyday in practice I sit there and tell myself that this is my last year," Cocozzo said. "I've got to make this one count. There are no more next years. This is it. No more excuses."
Once the season is over, Cocozzo can take all the time in the world to reflect. But for now, he is not going to waste the time.
"I want to go into this season not holding anything back, not worried about whether I'm tired or not," Cocozzo said. "It's my last year. I'm just going to go out there and have fun, do my best, leave everything on the table and have no regrets when my career is done."