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Keeping Phoenix's Eleazar De Luca off the wrestling mat has been impossible as he's developed into one of the top young wrestlers in the nation, and yet that's exactly the task ahead for Pirates wrestling coach John Farmer these days.
Anyone who knows De Luca — and there are few in the wrestling circle throughout the state who don't — will tell you that Farmer is in for the challenge of a lifetime, but the coach is determined to do all he can to make that happen.
All this effort stems from the fact that De Luca suffered a severe concussion in the championship finals of the Army Strong Coast Classic in North Bend on Saturday afternoon. While De Luca's CT scan came out negative and he was cleared to return home Saturday night, Farmer said Monday that the plan is to take it slow with De Luca to ensure that he fully recovers from the concussion.
Not surprisingly, De Luca was back at school on Monday and already pressing the issue with his head coach.
"He's got a little bit of a headache and all that," said Farmer, "but he's wanting to get back on wrestling and already asking me about that."
Following guidelines set forth for concussions, Farmer said De Luca could return to the mat in two weeks. In order to ensure the best possible outcome for the two-time defending state champion and three-time finalist, Farmer said the Pirates' plan is to hold him out of action for a full month.
"We're going to hold him back even longer than what they say because we want to make sure he's OK," said the coach. "I don't think wrestling this week or even this month is going to affect his ability to win state, and I've already talked to him and explained that to him. He's the kind of kid who loves wrestling and wants to be on the mat every second he can so it's hard for him, but it's better to play it safe."
The fact that he's having to deal with such a situation is somewhat surprising for Farmer. In comparison to other sports, Farmer said concussions are few and far between when it comes to wrestling.
"In 15 years, it's probably been two or three times that I've seen a kid really get his bell rung," said Farmer. "Once in a while you'll see two wrestlers shoot at the same time and bang heads or shoot and hit a knee, but it really doesn't happen all that often."
For the most part, wrestlers have sort of an honor system that ensures each other's protection while out on the mat. It's illegal to slam someone to the mat or throw a head butt or purposely hit a foe with a knee or elbow. When one wrestler picks the other off the mat, it's rare when the return trip doesn't involve caution to help buffer the blow.
"In wrestling, you're always trying to teach shooting low around a guy's legs and trying to get angles where you're not really hitting a guy head-on so you can get takedowns without having to struggle too much," said Farmer. "You don't really meet a guy head-on that many times changing elevations like that."
In the case of De Luca, Farmer said it all happened so fast on Saturday. The Phoenix standout was leading Canby's Stephen Doman in the championship match at 152 pounds with about 20 seconds to go when Doman went in for a double-leg takedown. As he was working his way out of the hold, De Luca's head hit the mat when Doman began to turn him sideways.
At that point, Farmer said no one knew anything had happened. De Luca even went on wrestling instinctively for about 10 seconds, fending off Doman's advances, before finally losing consciousness.
"I didn't notice anything until about three seconds to go in the match when he got put in a cradle and he had sort of a blank look on his face," said Farmer. "At that point I wasn't sure if it was because he'd gotten caught and was about to lose his first match in three years, but then it became obvious that he wasn't fully functional at that point."
In the flurry that followed his 8-3 loss to Doman — De Luca's first high school defeat since the state finals when he was a freshman — the Phoenix wrestler began to vomit and was quickly tended to by Farmer, assistant coach David May and trainers.
"That whole tournament was the smoothest tournament," said Farmer. "There were no breaks or nobody was going to the trainer for anything, it was an unbelievably peaceful tournament until that happen."
Farmer said the biggest task in the moments after the match was to keep De Luca awake, something the medical staff on hand aggressively pursued until he finally was placed in an ambulance.
"It looked a little scary there for a minute when he was fading in and out like that," said Farmer. "Finally in the ambulance he started answering some questions. He got the day wrong, he said it was Friday instead of Saturday, but at least he was trying to respond."
Fortunately, De Luca regained all his functions before too long, leaving Farmer to break the bad news to him about his wrestling plan.
"It'll be OK," said the coach. "He'll help me coach a little bit for a while. He can yell and scream a little bit, that might make it a little easier on him. He's been a strong leader this year, so just having him there will be good. He knows so much wrestling, he'll be able to help us out another way and maybe keep his mind off not being out there wrestling."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry