Senior finds way into lineup despite underwhelming roots

<p>Fifth-year senior 133-pounder Mike DeMarco, right, started the
season 4-4, then went 5-1 on?Sunday at the Nittany Lion Open
Tournament, where he wrestled six matches in a span of 10 hours.
DeMarco won his match?Friday against Old?Dominion’s Scott Festejo,
3-2, in an overtime period.</p>

Fifth-year senior 133-pounder Mike DeMarco, right, started the season 4-4, then went 5-1 on?Sunday at the Nittany Lion Open Tournament, where he wrestled six matches in a span of 10 hours. DeMarco won his match?Friday against Old?Dominion’s Scott Festejo, 3-2, in an overtime period.


Mike DeMarco was ready to spend his next four years at Division III Springfield (Mass.), when he made his rounds at a meet-and-greet with college coaches at the 2007 Senior Nationals.

DeMarco had interest and aid offers from three Division III wrestling programs, despite failing to place in the New Jersey state tournament at 103 pounds as a senior at St. Mary’s High School. Then he placed fourth at Senior Nationals and made his way to a table with then-Rutgers head wrestling coach John Sacchi.

“He had noticed that I placed and he was like, ‘Why didn’t you ever call?’” the fifth-year senior said. “I was like, ‘I’m a little guy. I’m not supposed to be wrestling there.’ I don’t know, it just wasn’t something I looked into, going D-I. I wasn’t really up to that level in high school in terms of what I achieved.”

Any doubts DeMarco had soon diminished.

He toured Rutgers’ campus a week after Senior Nationals, received a letter of acceptance a week later, then decided to walk-on with the Scarlet Knights.

He competed consistently as a freshman, but went 3-15. He was again a regular in the lineup as a sophomore, but went 9-18. He redshirted the following year, and then returned to the lineup last season to post his first winning record at 17-13.

Still, the season ended with a letdown.

DeMarco was pulled from the lineup before a late-season dual meet against Lehigh in favor of 125-pounder Matt Fusco, who jumped weight to wrestle at 133 pounds.

Fusco won the bout, and then won a head-to-head matchup with DeMarco to take his place as Rutgers’ 133-pound representative at the EIWA Tournament.

“He had all the right to bitch and he probably had a pretty good argument,” said head coach Scott Goodale, who took over at Rutgers after DeMarco walked on. “He never said a word. He just felt like, ‘It was a wrestle-off, he beat me,’ and he never said a word. I don’t know if that bothers him — it might — but he never said a word.”

DeMarco acknowledged it was frustrating, but understood the strategy in the move for the Lehigh match and acknowledged he simply lost against Fusco.

“You can only control so much,” DeMarco said, “and you have to deal with that.”

DeMarco dealt with it by returning for his fifth year as the only member of his recruiting class to survive a coaching change. It comes as no surprise to Goodale, who said he turned to DeMarco from Day 1 to lead that freshman class.

“I knew he was going to make it,” Goodale said. “I knew he would never quit. … If I’m fortunate enough where my son grows up to be like somebody, I want him to be like Mike DeMarco. That’s about as good as you get.”

Now Goodale turns to DeMarco to lead the entire team.

The former Jackson Memorial High School head coach never named a team captain until this season, when DeMarco and senior 141-pounder Billy Ashnault assumed the role.

DeMarco started the season with a 4-4 record, and then traveled to Penn State for the Nittany Lion Open Tournament on Sunday, when he placed sixth with a 5-1 record.

He lost a wrestle-off to Penn transfer Daniel White at the season-opening intra-squad match and lost again to White at the Brockport/Oklahoma Gold Classic.

But after DeMarco spent parts of the past four years in the lineup, Goodale said the former Springfield-bound wrestler is “for sure” his starter at 133 pounds.

“I’ve been dealing with this since I was a freshman,” DeMarco said. “I was always the dude where it was just like, ‘Where the hell is this kid coming from? Why does he keep breaking into the lineup?’ It’s just something I’ve always done. … For what I had achieved in high school, that’s really what I was looking at.”


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