- Mike Grimala, ESPNHS
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This story appeared in the New Jersey edition of the November ESPN RISE Magazine.
Andrew Campolattano gets nervous before each match. That's right -- after 89 consecutive wins to start his high school career, New Jersey's best wrestler still has to fight off butterflies.
You'd think with two state championships under his belt, Campolattano would be more at ease when stepping onto the mat. But with the kind of history he's chasing, the Bound Brook (Bound Brook, N.J.) junior can't escape the pressure.
"My expectations couldn't be higher," he says. "I can't afford to take any breaks. I have to be at my best every day because there's always someone out there working hard to beat you. I'm nervous before every match because there's always a chance someone is going to beat me."
But can anyone actually dethrone Campolattano? His first two prep seasons resulted in undefeated campaigns and state titles at 189 pounds, and few opponents could even push the 6-foot-2, 200-pound wrecking ball to break a sweat.
That dominance has thrust Campolattano into the spotlight as he chases an unprecedented place in New Jersey history.
"This state has never had an undefeated four-time state champ," says Bound Brook coach Kyle Franey. "That's what Andrew is working toward. He's halfway there, and I know he fully expects it to happen."
With that pressure weighing on him, it's easy to see why Campolattano still gets nervous before he steps onto the mat. Each bout represents a chance to slip up and lose something he's already worked two years to build.
"It's natural to feel the nerves," Campolattano says. "It goes away once the match starts. Then I stay composed and relaxed, and that helps me focus on my opponent."
The pressure was never greater than before last year's state championship match. Holy Spirit senior Mac Mancuso (currently a freshman at West Virginia) had won the 189-pound title in 2007 before missing the 2008 tournament with an injury. When Campolattano won in 2008, there were some who discounted the achievement because he hadn't gone through the defending champ to earn it.
"I heard [people say] he was the only guy that could beat me," Campolattano says. "Going into that tournament, it was the most nervous I've ever been. I knew either way I was most likely going to see him in the finals."
Mancuso entered state seeded No. 1 and Campolattano was No. 2. As they continued on their collision course through the bracket, anticipation reached a boiling point.
"It was the biggest match in the state since probably 1991," Franey says. "Everyone wanted to see if Mancuso could beat him, because in a lot of people's minds it was the last clear hurdle for Andrew."
With more than 11,000 spectators on hand at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Campolattano dominated the match and clinched an 11-7 victory with a reversal late in the third period. The win pushed his record to 46-0 for the season -- 89-0 for his career -- and left him exactly halfway to his ultimate goal.
"I think about it every day," Campolattano says. "I try not to talk about it, but that's always been my goal. Before freshman year, my goal was to be a four-time state champ and never lose a match."
When Campolattano first took up wrestling, however, his aspirations were more modest. As a third-grader drawn into the sport by his older brothers, he viewed grappling as an activity to eat up time between football seasons.
A year later, Campolattano had grown too big for Pop Warner football and decided to devote himself to wrestling full time. He took lessons with a private coach and learned how to use his size and quickness to his advantage.
"I was a strong kid at the start, but my technique was nothing," Campolattano says. "Once I started learning all that stuff, I started to really love it."
By the time Campolattano reached middle school, he was already approaching his current stature and quickly making a name for himself.
"There was a buzz going around about this kid in the seventh grade," recalls Franey, who coached at Point Pleasant Boro during Campolattano's freshman year. "He was such a big kid. You don't see freshmen in high school come in and wrestle at 189, but with Andrew it was like a man wrestling boys."
In his first tournament as a freshman, Campolattano thrashed one of Franey's state-ranked seniors to take first place. That debut sparked talk of an undefeated career, and it's only grown louder since then.
That's why Campolattano has a hard time shaking off the stress. He's been carrying huge expectations for more than two years, and he has to make it through two more seasons unblemished before he'll be satisfied.
"It's hard not to look ahead," he says. "So it's always on my mind."
Even with Mancuso out of the picture and serious challengers seemingly few and far between, Campolattano's internal drive won't let him slow down. He worked especially hard on the technical aspects of his wrestling during the offseason as he continued to position himself to become one of New Jersey's all-time prep legends. Combine that more refined approach with his freakish athleticism and Campolattano should be unbeatable this season.
Well, even more unbeatable.
"He's obsessed with getting better," Franey says. "If Andrew right now wrestled himself from last year, the current version would win by eight points. I don't know if there's anybody left that can beat him -- maybe not even anyone that could score a point on him."
Given the rate at which Campolattano continues to improve, Franey isn't shy about raising the stakes even higher.
"At the Canada Cup this summer, he wrestled in the open division and beat a Division III NCAA champion," says Franey. "He's won three Greco-Roman national titles. So when you say what's next for Andrew, can he be a four-time NCAA champ? Why not? An Olympic gold medal? It sounds crazy, but he's unparalleled."
Those kinds of expectations certainly won't help calm Campolattano's nerves. But that's OK. He's at his best when the pressure's on.
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