High School wrestler Mike DiFrisco

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Mike DiFrisco (Photo courtesy of Sun-Times Media)
Mike DiFrisco (Photo courtesy of Sun-Times Media)
Losses have been few and far between on the wrestling mat for Elmwood Park High School’s Mike DiFrisco the past three years.

He’s compiled an 88-15 record since his sophomore year, and finished his prep career this past February by making his third straight appearance at the state individual meet in Champaign.

The senior, who’ll graduate in June, posted a 34-4 record during the 2011-12 season at 126 pounds and placed among the top eight in his weight class.

Take into consideration that DiFrisco had never wrestled prior to entering high school, and it makes his climb up the ladder of high school wrestling success that much more of a compelling story.

DiFrisco first sensed that he wanted to wrestle in the seventh grade but, he says, “I didn’t really know how to get into it.” He was playing youth football at the time.

He was further encouraged to take up wrestling by one of his eighth-grade football coaches.

“He said at the time, ‘We have to get him wrestling,’ ” recalls Mike’s father, Marty, who also coached Mike’s eighth-grade grid team. “The kid’s strong. So freshman year comes along and he tries out for wrestling. He had six or seven varsity matches (that year) and he won them all.”

DiFrisco continued playing football at Elmwood Park — last fall he split time as a defensive and offensive starter for the Tigers — but wrestling became his passion. Even though DiFrisco experienced early success, there was plenty to learn. Wrestling not only is a physically demanding sport, but mentally demanding, as well.

DiFrisco credits his coaches with helping him get up to speed on the mat over the years. Among them were Elmwood Park head coach Lane Stone and his staff (Gary Schulze and Jim Malich), along with his off-season coach, Israel Martinez, the head coach of Class 2A state power Montini Catholic in Lombard.

“As a freshman, he was just learning the basics,” Stone says. “His sophomore year, he was still pretty green, but he was still picking up the sport. When he made it downstate (his sophomore year) and saw what that was about, he took it upon himself the following year to do some off-season training and try to get better on his own.

“He was 100 pounds his freshman year, 103 his sophomore year. Either you pick up the sport and learn it, or you are going to get your butt kicked. He was just one of those kids who picked it up and it came naturally to him.”

Steve Nadolski, a state qualifier at Elmwood Park who’s since graduated, also was instrumental in DiFrisco’s development.

“He was my training partner,” DiFrisco says. “He was one of our captains and he really took me under his wing. He used to beat me up every day (in practice). I didn’t know the sport; he taught me the basics and showed me the ropes.

“My freshman and sophomore year, I learned from him. My junior and senior year, I took it upon myself, did a lot of off-season work and worked my butt off.”

Needless to say, all of DiFrisco’s hard work has paid off — not only with his sparkling win-loss record, but with a college scholarship. Last December, DiFrisco signed a letter of intent to wrestle at Ashland (Ohio) University, one of the top Division II schools for wrestling in the nation. Ashland was ranked 12th this season and qualified eight individuals for the Division II national championships held in March.

“Their program is great,” DiFrisco says. “We [DiFrisco and his father, Marty] went out and visited, and the second we got there, there were great people surrounding us and the atmosphere was great.”

Stone believes DiFrisco will excel at the next level once he gets acclimated.

“The practice room itself will be very competitive,” Stone says. “He’s not real satisfied with just being average. He’s going to work hard in the off-season and hopefully break into the lineup.”

About Mike Sandrolini

Mike Sandrolini has been published in the Elmhurst Independent, Voyager Media, the Daily Herald, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Bear Report. His stories and columns have been recognized for editorial excellence at regional, state and national newspaper contests over the years. He also has co-authored two books: "Bear With Me: A Family History of George Halas and the Chicago Bears" and "All the Good in Sports." His father, Raymond, is a native of Gaggio Montano, a small village around 30 miles southwest of Bologna.

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