PHOENIX — As one chapter in his wrestling life ends, former Phoenix High star Eleazar DeLuca is just as eager to move on to the next step in his lifelong pursuit to compete in the Olympic Games.
In the meantime, DeLuca and a couple buddies are taking time out of their training schedule to give back to the sport they love by holding special wrestling camps with an emphasis on throws. DeLuca, a three-time state champion at Phoenix and four-time finalist, is back in town and his three-day “I’d Rather Throw Ya Than Know Ya” camp began Friday at Phoenix High and runs through Sunday.
Joining DeLuca as instructors are Geordan Speiller, who is a World Team member and Olympic alternate, and Pat Downey, a former NCAA All-American and Junior World silver medalist.
“These camps are honestly more of a hobby and for fun while giving back to the sport,” said DeLuca, a 2012 Phoenix grad who posted a 155-10 record as a Pirate. “I definitely had a great opportunity at Phoenix High School with all the coaches I had out there. It’s cool to see these kids coming up in the sport and say, ‘Hey, it wasn’t too long ago I was in their shoes.’”
Sessions for the camp run 10 a.m.-noon and 2-4 p.m. each day at a cost of $70 for one day or $120 for the final two days. Wrestlers are still welcomed to join any of the days.
It’s a win-win situation for current Phoenix wrestling coach Jon Gay in bringing back DeLuca and creating such an opportunity for wrestlers in this community.
“He’s probably one of the best wrestlers to come out of Phoenix High School and to get him to come back and want to come back and make a pit stop here is huge,” said Gay.
“I feel like that pays even more bonus points in drawing more interest to our team when they see successful former wrestlers we have had in our program and they get to come back and share stories about their time at Phoenix.”
Gay said wrestlers have come to town from as far away as Idaho and throughout Oregon to train with the elite trio.
For DeLuca, the idea for the camp came during a conversation with Downey, whom he first met while training at the Olympic Training Center out of high school as he delayed his college entry.
“We both like to throw people and we both came up with this camp because we used to joke about how we’d rather throw you than know you,” said the 24-year-old. “It’s fun to go around the country and teach kids how to wrestle in those upper body positions. Not a lot of people really teach it but you still have to know how to wrestle when you’re in those positions.”
It’s also something near and dear DeLuca’s heart, especially as he continues to transition from freestyle to Greco-Roman for his Olympic pursuits.
“I just really enjoy that style of wrestling,” he said. “I enjoy throwing people, I enjoy lifting people, that’s what I have the most fun with. I still love folkstyle and freestyle, all wrestling really — judo, jiu-jitsu, whatever it is — if it’s a hands-on combat it’s fun for me.”
After a journeyman history in the sport following his days at Phoenix, DeLuca wrapped up his collegiate career this past spring at Rutgers University, where he went 2-2 at the NCAA Championships at 149 pounds as a redshirt senior.
“Obviously every kid’s goal going into college is to win a national title and that didn’t end up happening for me,” said DeLuca, “but then one goal passes and you build to the next. Now my next goal is to compete for world and national titles, I’m still pretty young in my career.”
After starting at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado while also sharing time in Florida with Speiller — the duo each won FILA Junior National titles together — DeLuca spent two seasons at Clackamas Community College, where he was fourth at the Junior Nationals his first year and second the next. DeLuca then transferred to Northern Colorado, where he went 17-6 and finished fourth at the Big 12 Championships but couldn’t qualify for the NCAA Championships due to not having enough matches to meet the RPI requirement.
Deciding Northern Colorado wasn’t the best fit, DeLuca found another opportunity at Rutgers and couldn’t have been happier with his time in New Jersey.
As a highlight moment, DeLuca brought the house to a frenzy in January with his 12-7 win over No. 5-ranked Ke-Shawn Hayes of Ohio State. He trailed 5-0 in the third period but came up with a big throw in the final 40 seconds for a four-point near fall and then later, at 6-6 in the waning seconds, DeLuca cracked Hayes again with a six-point throw.
“Wrestling at the Rutgers Athletic Center is insane,” said DeLuca. “The crowd comes down on top of you and it’s just incredible. I think it’s the best fans in the country, the best coaches in the country and soon to be the best team in the country. I was lucky enough to have some awesome coaches there that really supported me.”
After a brutal final season, DeLuca found himself conflicted over whether to take a year off and let his body recover or dive headfirst into working toward his future. Anyone who knows DeLuca at all could probably guess which won out.
“I don’t like to sit and waste time,” DeLuca said with a laugh. “I like to keep things moving forward.”
DeLuca jumped into action, finishing seventh at 72 kilograms at the U.S. Open in the Senior Greco-Roman division to qualify for the World Team Trials. He improved to third at the World Team Trials to make the squad and is now ranked fourth on the ladder as he eyes the 2020 Olympics.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” said DeLuca, who plans to go overseas to train and compete in places like Hungary, Croatia, Ukraine and possibly Russia this year.
DeLuca has also spent the last few summers working with renowned California head coach Greg Varela at his wrestling clubs, first in Gilroy and now in Los Gatos. Coaching is something that he enjoys and may pique his interest further when he slows down as a competitor, but DeLuca doesn’t expect that time to come for a while. Until then, he’s happy to be a volunteer and put on coaching camps in the middle of his own constant training.
“Wrestling definitely builds a lot of character,” said DeLuca in promoting the sport. “It’s one of those sports that, like Dan Gable said, once you have wrestled everything else in life is easy. That stays true in a lot of ways. I also think it’s a sport where you can’t lie to yourself. If you don’t work hard in practice, you’re only cheating yourself and no one else. That’s something that my mat club coach Sean Willis taught me. After every practice I wanted to go home and be able to look in the mirror and know I worked as hard as I can.”
WHO: A former three-time state champion at Phoenix High who wrapped up his collegiate career this past season at Rutgers University.
WHAT: DeLuca and decorated wrestling buddies Geordan Speiller and Pat Downey are hosting a wrestling camp at Phoenix High through Sunday with an emphasis on throws. Sessions are 10 a.m.-noon and 2-4 p.m. each day at a cost of $70 for one day and $120 for the final two days.
OF NOTE: DeLuca, a 2012 Phoenix graduate, recently placed third at the World Team Trials and is training to become part of the 2020 Olympic Games Greco-Roman team.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry.