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Buford’s Evan DiMaggio, top, tries to pin Discovery’s Gary Dever in the 220-pound final in the Gwinnett County Wrestling Championships earlier this month at Mill Creek. A simple, straightforward approach has helped the senior rebound from an ankle injury that cost him half his senior season in football and helped the Wolves to a state title, and make an impact on the mat for the wrestling team.

There’s not a lot that is complicated about Evan DiMaggio. What you see of the Buford two-sport standout is pretty much what you get.

In a lot of ways, that kind of simplicity comes in handy as he competes in the Wolves’ varsity football and wrestling programs, and it has definitely come in handy during what has been a senior season filled with obstacles to overcome.

But overcome them DiMaggio has, rebounding from a fractured ankle in the opening game of the football season in August that cost him the rest of the regular season before returning in the playoffs to have a major impact on Buford’s run to the Class AAAAA state championship.

And after returning to the wresting mat only just over a week ago at the 2020 Gwinnett County Championships, he’s had an immediately impact by rolling to a county title, capped by a pin of Discovery’s Gary Dever in the finals.

It’s not that surprising that DiMaggio has the competitive spirit to work past such adversity.

After all, with his great uncle being late Hall of Fame baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, competitiveness seems to run in his family.

And Buford wrestling coach Tom Beuglas sees the same kind of determination in the younger DiMaggio.

“He’s a tough kid,” Beuglas said. “When he broke (his ankle), he’d roll around in his scooter every day and he did therapy every day, He doesn’t complain. You ask him, ‘How’s the ankle?’ He says, ‘Fine.’

“The minute he was cleared to play, he played every game and didn’t say a word about it. Then once the season was over, he came out to wrestling, and he still goes to therapy every day with our trainers before practice. But he never says a word about it bothering him, That’s just not the kind of kid he is. He’s real quiet, He’s tough.”

That toughness was definitely on display during the football playoffs, as DiMaggio admits he wasn’t quite 100 percent until a few weeks after his return.

He also admits the athletic rust caused by sitting out the injury made his transition to wrestling a little slower than in past years, but thought it all, he has persevered kept pushing on through.

“The game (the ankle) started to feel better was the (state semifinals) against Jones County,” said DiMaggio, who signed a National Letter of Intent to play college football at Furman University in December. “From then on out, it’s been getting better form there. The first few (wrestling) practices, it took a little getting used to. But once I started getting into it, it felt good.”

The simple straight-forward approach DiMaggio takes to both football and wrestling is perhaps a big reason why he has been able to come back so well from such a serious injury.

And even though he’s now healthy, he probably won’t change the basic approach on the wrestling mat as he and the Wolves head into the Class AAAAA state duals championships beginning Thursday in Macon.

“He does (like contact),” Beuglas said. “He’s perfect (for the physicality of wrestling). The other kids don’t like practicing with him because he only knows one speed. He’s wide-open, full speed.

“As a matter of fact, especially his sophomore year and most of his junior year, he’s technique (wasn’t) very good. He’s going to tackle you. If you watch his matches, he just literally drops his level, he runs through and he tackles you. But it works. He’s just so hard to wrestle because he’s tall and he’s really strong. If he actually had the technique that a lot of the kids have, he’d probably be unbeatable.”

DiMaggio hasn’t been entirely unbeatable throughout his wrestling career, but despite taking up the sport only in his freshman season and the fact that he only wrestles a limited time each year as he trains for his main sport, football, he’s been pretty close to it.

His raw talent carried him to a Class AAAAA state championship match at 220 pounds as a junior last year before falling in a 7-3 decision to Kell’s Andrew Parlato in the finals despite having to overcome another health-related obstacle.

“Last year, I was wresting at 220 (pounds),” DiMaggio recalled. “Right before state individual, I got sick and I weighed in around 199. … This year, I’m closer (to the upper weight limit). I’m at, like, 218. So just to make sure I maintain my weight so I can wrestle at a high level (is important).”

Still both DiMaggio and Beuglas know that if he is to continue to help the Buford team at state duals and take the next step to climb to the top of the podium at the traditional region, area and state meets, that latter of which will likely include a rematch against Parlato at some point along the way, he will have to polish his technique at least a little bit.

And he has shown more than a willingness to do so.

“He doesn’t put much time into (wrestling) just because football is so demanding,” Beuglas said. “A lot of our real good kids wrestle year-round and they’re constantly working at it. We just try to teach him a few things and then let his athletic ability kind of take over.

“I will say that (assistant) Coach (Brian) Schieber, who helps with mostly the ninth-grade and (junior varsity) kids every day at practice, now that JV county is over, he just working with Evan and our heavyweight this week and the next couple of weeks trying to get them caught up and back up to speed.”

DiMaggio says he’s looking not just to Beuglas and Schreiber to guidance, but also to some of his Wolves teammates to work on more specific areas of his technique, especially when it comes to defensive wrestling, to help him finish his competitive wrestling career with a bang.

“I obviously want to get (back) to the state finals and win, and I guess just working hard, tying to just do everything I can do,” DiMaggio said. “I haven’t been wrestling that long, only since my sophomore year. … I know some moves, but I’m still working on correcting my technique, getting it polished as much as Charlie Darracott and Nick Stonecheck and guys like that. I just go out and try and learn as much as I can at practice, and go out (on the mat) and try to use in my matches. It’s kind of just working on techniques of trying to get out of (defensive situations). That’s the problem I had when I first started wrestling — how to get out of moves that people were doing on me. Now that I know (more), I’m a lot better at it.”

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Graduated from GSU in 1990. Have worked in sports journalism for the past 28 years, covering a variety of sports at the Gwinnett Daily News, AJC, Lafayette (La.) Daily Advertiser and Marietta Daily Journal before returning to Gwinnett at the Post in 2007.

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