Johnni DiJulius: Looking for More in 2015
by Garth Gartrell
Contributor to OhioStateBuckeyes.com
Ohio State wrestler Johnni DiJulius enters the 2014-15 season with a goal of winning an NCAA championship. The affable and charismatic redshirt junior (described as everyone’s best friend) likes his progression and senses that he has reached another plateau near the top of his 133 pound weight class. As a high school wrestler from Aurora, Ohio (Walsh Jesuit), Johnni was a four year state finalist and three time champion. At Ohio State he has tasted moments of tantalizing brilliance, delivering some astonishing victories and raising the expectation that his goal is within reach.
DiJulius has been an enigma to collegiate wrestling observers for a couple years. After hoisting the 2013 Cliff Keen Invitational trophy in December, 2013, DiJulius never really wrestled at the same level to finish out the year. He ended up sixth in the 2014 Big Ten Tournament and failed to achieve a top-eight “All America” placement at the NCAA tournament.
All signs point to a much different finish for Johnni this year. In fact, while last year he trended down, this year the trend is up. After a surprising loss in the opening rounds of the 2014 Cliff Keen, DiJulius hustled through the consolation bracket to claim third place with a physically brutal win.
Through last Sunday’s match at Maryland, DiJulius is the team leader in wins, sporting a combined 20-2 record. While he has also lost a very close match to Penn State’s James Gulibon, he also dominated highly ranked Cory Clark of Iowa.
There seems to be no doubt about DiJulius’ resolve. Coach Tom Ryan explains that in the past, DiJulius might get a lead and “just hang on, which is a recipe for disaster.” Some of that is directly attributable to DiJulius somewhat unorthodox style, both in the neutral and down positions. DiJuius indicates he likes to make his opponents uncomfortable by putting them in positions they don’t often encounter. The problem is that his technique requires a little more time to engage and pull off.
Last year, simple math likely stood in DiJulius’ way. Any time a wrestler gets to the end of a match in a virtual tie, the odds are he is going to lose a match here and there. That can kill your hopes in a tournament run, especially as the competition gets stronger deeper into the tournament.
This year DiJulius seems to be wrestling with a much greater sense of urgency, and when he does that, he is very tough to stop and a punishing spectacle to watch. A natural scrambler who is quite comfortable in unorthodox positions, DiJulius has the serenity and strength to push the action and generally emerge with the points. Whether DiJulius is actively taking his coach’s advice or not, this year’s efforts reveal a much more punishing wrestler who is generally taking big leads to the third. The team has a great motto—win the third (#WT3)—and it is a whole lot easier to do when backed by a big margin.
Something else is different this year. Just one look at the Ohio State wrestling team before they emerged from the locker room this weekend against Indiana would have made one think they had just lost a street brawl. Nathan Tomasello had a black eye from a previous that covered half his face. Josh Demas was sitting out the match out because of a disfigured eye, also from the previous match. And there was Johnni DiJulius smiling through his own badge of honor—a shiner as big as a saucer. There is no doubt that this team and Johnni in particular are putting in the work as they prepare for what they hope is an epic end to this season.
Johnni DiJulius is simply a great kid—well liked, energetic and bursting with fun and enthusiasm. He is an accomplished and certified parachutist who has dragged just about every teammate out for a dive. His life won’t be any less full if he never wins a national title. But he wants to land his chute on the elevated finals stage, and if you pay close enough attention you can see him making just the right adjustments to do that.