PHOENIX — All-American wrestler Eleazar De Luca will be packing his bags a little earlier than expected and headed to an altogether different destination than originally planned in hopes of furthering his career.
The three-time state champion from Phoenix High had been destined for Arizona State University but instead will leave Tuesday for an opportunity to train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"I just thought I needed another year of maturing a little bit physically and mentally before college and I could just get a little bit better," De Luca said of his decision to take a grayshirt, which delays his eligibility clock until he arrives on campus.
De Luca initially will head to Colorado for a six-week trial period so both he and the coaches can ensure that his presence there is a good fit for all, but the 18-year-old standout firmly believes he'll have no troubles with the transition and will then spend a full year there to hone his craft before heading to college.
"You've got to live it to be good at it so that's what I'm trying to do," said De Luca, who placed third at 145 pounds in the USA Wrestling Folkstyle Junior Nationals in March. "I want to be great at it someday so I've got to take the steps and everything I'm doing is part of that."
"If you're training there you're training to be the best and that's definitely what I feel like I'm training for," he added. "I want to be the best one day."
As someone who is well known around the wrestling community, not only on the West Coast but through his work at the national and international prep levels, De Luca has increasingly immersed himself in the sport. Whenever there has been a training opportunity or tournament to attend, De Luca has made it his priority to make it happen.
His most recent opportunity stems from a meeting with Brandon Slay, the resident freestyle coach for USA Wrestling at the Olympic Training Center, at a wrestling camp run by David Vizzini that he attended as a sophomore. De Luca again got to talk with Slay when he was in Iowa for the Junior Nationals, and that's when he gained an invitation to come train in Colorado. Slay earned a gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the 2000 Olympic Games in Australia.
"It's definitely not common," De Luca said of the opportunity. "Kids are able to go train there at points but it's not every day a kid can go there and train for a long period of time and spend a year out there. It's a new program that's only been around a couple years and they've only had a few athletes who chose to grayshirt at the Olympic Training Center. But a lot of them have been really successful with it."
De Luca noted the growth of a pair of grayshirts at the center, Pat Downey of Florida and Destin McCauley of Minnesota, and how much better each was able to develop with a full year of training in Colorado.
"It's just a really good program and they get you really ready for college," said De Luca. "I've been out there once, it was beautiful there and I really liked it. I didn't get to train there but we went by and toured it and it was a beautiful facility and there's a lot to do in Colorado Springs."
De Luca would live in a dorm on campus and have a lot of the same experiences as any regular college freshman, except his main focus would be on wrestling.
"I'm pretty sure it's just going to be my job pretty much every day to wrestle," he said. "It's going to be fun."
De Luca said he has tried to learn more about what kind of training regimen he'll be put through but the coaches haven't tipped their hat too much on that.
"I actually don't know a whole lot about the workout aspect but I'm sure it will involve a lot of live wrestling and drilling and lifting weights," said the 5-foot-10, 158-pounder. "I'm kinda excited to see what they're going to put me through because I don't know exactly. Right now I'm just training three or four times a day to get better and to make sure I can keep up with everyone."
De Luca said his family has warmed up to the idea of attending the training center and delaying his college career. He also said the coaches at Arizona State were supportive of the move.
"They thought it was a good idea to take a year to just get better," he said. "My goal next year is to be the No. 1 recruit in the country if I can so I just want to see if I can get better and better and better."
While De Luca has no intent to change his future plans with the Sun Devils, noting again how much he likes the program, there is nothing that truly binds him to ASU during his grayshirt year and he could conceivably be recruited by other programs during his year at the center.
De Luca is also slated to compete at the USA Wrestling Freestyle and Greco-Roman Nationals next month in Fargo, N.D.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry