Former Phoenix High standout Eleazar De Luca said he's made strides as a wrestler during his time at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Now he's determined exactly where he wants to test out that theory.
De Luca recently committed to be a part of Iowa State University's recruiting class for the 2013-14 season once his year-long commitment at the OTC is complete. The Cyclones have won eight national championships and produced 65 individual champions, with the list including Olympic gold medalists Jake Varner, Cael Sanderson, Kevin Jackson, Dan Gable, Ben Peterson and Glen Brand.
"I liked everything from the coaches to the town (of Ames, Iowa) and the team, it was just a really good fit," said De Luca. "You can't really get a better coaching staff than they have with head coach Kevin Jackson and I just really liked the whole program out there. I don't know if any other program has more Olympic champions than Iowa State and that's what I'm striving to become."
Current OTC teammate Jesse Doyle also will be joining the Cyclones so De Luca won't be alone in the move next fall.
De Luca had given a verbal commitment to Arizona State earlier this year as he wrapped up his run as a three-time state champion at Phoenix High but never signed any official paperwork and, instead, opted to spend a year at the Olympic Training Center beginning this past June.
"I knew this year that I wanted to take some visits and really figure out if Arizona State was the place for me," he said.
De Luca had the opportunity to meet and work with Iowa State assistant coach Travis Paulson during an Olympic Training Center camp and that instant relationship evolved into a visit to Iowa State, where De Luca felt at home.
A long family conversation ensued before De Luca ultimately decided that he would be better off remaining in the Midwest than coming back to the West Coast.
"It wasn't an easy decision but I think it's the right one for me," he said.
In the meantime, De Luca said he's been working hard at honing his skills on the mat with his OTC teammates.
"It's going real good here," said De Luca. "I've got a ton of workout partners and I'm learning a lot. I think I've finally figured out some wrestling."
"It's a lot of working out and focusing on wrestling, so I like that," he added.
Although the group trains by doing freestyle wrestling, De Luca said he's competed in a couple folkstyle tournaments this month with fairly positive results. He didn't place at 149 pounds in the Cowboy Open at Laramie, Wyo., in his first exhibition since the summer schedule but finished fourth two weeks ago at the Old Chicago Northern Colorado Open in Greeley, Colo.
"I had been training freestyle and went and did folkstyle for the first time since high school and it was a little different for me," said De Luca, 18. "I still wrestled well and I felt like I learned a lot and my attack's a lot better."
In his most recent action, De Luca advanced to the semifinals at 149 before losing 4-2 to eventual champion Justin Gonzales, a junior at Northern Colorado. In the third-place finals, De Luca was pinned by Air Force Prep's Natrelle Demison.
De Luca said he doesn't plan to compete again until February when the Olympic Training Center hosts its own tournament. He's also planning on wrestling at tournaments in Ohio and Nevada.
Until then, De Luca said he will continue his work at the OTC before returning home Dec. 17 for a holiday break. Besides working out in the Phoenix High mat room, De Luca said he may try to put on a small clinic for youth wrestlers before returning to Colorado.
"I'm just going to keep training with these great guys I get to wrestle with like Chase Pami, who's ranked second nationally on the senior level and is looking to make his first World team," said De Luca. "It's pretty awesome to work with someone like him. Being here (at the OTC) has been a great experience for me."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry