Looking Ahead to NCAA Wrestling Chps–Johnni DiJulius

I am going to dribble out pieces in the next week in preparation for the NCAA Wrestling Championships March 21-23 in Oklahoma City. I hope no one takes offense—I am not in the wrestling room and these are only musings from a distance. I do tend to focus on the positive—we are talking about young men here competing in the hardest sport imaginable. No matter how it sounds or how wrong I might be, I always have great respect for wrestling and the people involved.

Johnni DiJulius, photo courtesy of photo.theozone.net

Johnni DiJulius, photo courtesy of photo.theozone.net

Let me start with a commentary provoked by the commentary on another website. I just read someone else’s take on wrestlers whose stock is either down or up, and one cited for being down was Buckeye redshirt sophomore Johnni DiJulius The observation was that after some eye-popping wins early, Johnni’s ceiling had been capped, with a mediocre B1G season and a three loss B1G Tourney showing. The ultimate conclusion was that Johnni’s style does not match up well with others.

If I had hair statements like that would make me pull it. Any style can work, but DiJulius is particularly blessed with the style he has. I truly don’t know what Johnni is thinking, but my guess is that he has won with that scrambling type of crazy style so much that he has the confidence to just dive in and go with the flow. I have always thought that most people who win at the highest level go in with a game plan they want to enforce and know what their contingencies are. They enforce the script until they have to vary and then know their escape routes. So planning and going with your strengths while limiting the exposure of your weak spots is critical.

I’m just guessing that Johnni is young and still has not put his style to its best strategic use. Young guys need to adjust to the fact that college is different—they are not wrestling high school kids who often do not adjust to a style, but are wrestling grown men who watch, learn and implement to stay ahead.

I think it may be true that Johnni could benefit from realizing his style may in fact hurt him in precise moments even as it is usually his biggest asset. For example, from the bottom position, DiJulius likes to instantly turtle and then either rip hands and stand up or try to pull an arm over and dig back in. The formula works, but with a skilled rider, it can take a lot of time. Johnni lost an overtime match against Michigan where he needed an escape, but his style is one that can take too long for the 30 seconds of an overtime. That certainly suggests he needs another plan, but for that limited sort of instance.

But outside of specific instances, the DiJulius way is a gift others usually don’t have. Some diversification would help but I am willing to bet Johnni is one guy who could really benefit from game panning his match so that he puts his style in play on purpose rather than happenstance. Precisely what that means I cannot say because really only the wrestler knows what he is capable of and how he can best position a match to use it to his advantage.

DiJulius actually had a rebound in the B1G Tourney from his dual meet season. He lost two very close and tough matches that could have gone either way. The truth is that his trajectory is what you like to see at this time of the year. Yes he got beat up in the 5th place match but all wrestlers, especially young ones, get deflated after a big loss. I don’t read much into what happens in a 5th place match in a conference tourney where the NCAA bid was locked up. True, he should get up for every match, but human nature sometimes takes over.

Johhni has that intangible style that is instinctive and cannot be taught. He should add tools, but those are the teachable things. I quite disagree that Johhni is capped—in fact with a plan, more discipline and probably adding to his arsenal on a strategic basis, there is no reason he will not be wrestling for a national title next year (though looking at the seeds, if he can close the small gap on Minnesota’s David Thorn and duplicate his beat down of No. 1 Seed Joe Colon of Northern Iowa–he could arrive a year early).


  1. […] including a very close 5-3 loss to Minnesota’s David Thorn (see my earlier thoughts on DiJulius here). If DiJulius can also pick his game up a notch and overcome Thorn in a likely second NCAA match, […]

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