The Wolfpacker

May 2012

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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group of newcomers included multiple-time state champions, prep All-Americans and a national record holder. However, the product from that particu- N lar class that left the biggest mark on the program was barely talked about before the season began. BY RYAN TICE C State wrestling's 2007 recruiting class sent shock waves through the sport's national community be- cause the Wolfpack's star-studded he said. "It was amazing to get that far as a freshman, and it truly helped my confidence in the next few years. It made me want to strive for better things." Little set his sights high after a success- Under The Radar NO MORE ful debut season, and watching close friend Darrion Caldwell win an NCAA title in 2009 inspired him to want to be the best. He qualified for the NCAA Tournament in each of his final three years of competition, and now is focused on wrestling freestyle at the international level after graduation. Walk-on Darrius Little was an under-the- With All-America Honors On Wrestling's Biggest Stage "I told myself I was going to win nation- Walk-On Darrius Little Ended His Career radar addition that lacked the notoriety of most of his classmates, but he ended his Wolfpack career as just the third wrestler in program history to eclipse 100 wins and earned All-American honors at the NCAA Championships in March. The native of Thomasville, N.C., stands third in school history with 102 wins and is just the 17th Pack wrestler to finish among the nation's top eight. The 141-pounder completed his senior campaign with a 37-13 record, which is tied for the second-most wins ever by a senior, and placed eighth at the NCAA Championships. "I'm happy with what I did," Little said. "I did a lot of things that a lot of people from North Carolina have never done, and there haven't been a lot of wrestling All- Americans from here. A lot of people didn't think I could win a state championship in high school, so to place in the NCAA Tour- nament, where it's just the best of the best, is satisfying." Little started at cornerback for a state championship football team at Thomasville, earned several all-state honors on the track (including the 2007 1A state crown in the 300-meter hurdles) and won the 135-pound state wrestling title as a senior although he didn't start the sport until his freshman year. He admits that he didn't really know much about wrestling as a college rookie, but that didn't prevent him from cracking the lineup immediately and finishing as the runner-up in the ACC Championships at 133 pounds. "Winning as a freshman was huge be- cause I was just the new kid on the block," 64 ■ THE WOLFPACKER als at least twice," he remembered. "I didn't achieve my goal. I'm happy with what I achieved in college, but it left me thirsty for more. "To reach 100 wins at NC State is great. NC State has brought in some phenomenal wrestlers from states all over the country — states that are known for wrestling — and to be ranked No. 3 all time at NC State, as a kid from North Carolina, is a wonderful thing." Despite all of the personal accolades, Lit- tle said the proudest accomplishment of his senior campaign was the fact that the Pack sent five out of a possible 10 wrestlers to the NCAA Tournament. "That felt amazing," he said. "To have half the team there this year surrounding me was incredible. Even after my teammates were out of the tournament, they never missed my matches. It helped me out tremendously, and it was a joy to see my brothers support- ing me. Some of the guys who weren't even wrestling at nationals came to St. Louis to support us, and that is what it's all about." Little says that his teammates have always meant a lot to him, but their impact was magnified due to a difficult situation he had to deal with this winter. He began the first semester of his final campaign ineligible be- cause he had not completed enough progress towards his degree. That meant the three-time All-ACC se- lection had to pay his own way to travel to open tournaments for the first half of the season. He couldn't compete with the team or practice with his teammates, and that af- fected the senior mentally and physically. mates and performed at a high level. His first competition back with the team came at the prestigious Southern Scuffle, where he placed second. Little closed the year on a 22-5 tear — with three of the losses com- ing at the NCAA Championships and four coming by two points or less — and was a perfect 14-0 in dual matches. "At one point, I had eight losses in the first semester, and I would've never believed that I would even get to nationals," he said. "It was lovely when I could get back with the team, it felt so good because those are my brothers. Anybody I've ever wrestled with, I hold them close to my heart. To get back in the room with those guys was a relief men- tally and really helped me physically." After seeing the impact that his team- mates made on him, Little, who was 63-25 over the final two years of his career, hopes that he made a lasting impression on the grapplers who will lead the Pack, under new head coach Pat Popolizio, in the years to come. "I would've never been at nationals with- out my teammates," he said. "I just want to thank everyone that has helped me along the way because it was a wonderful ride. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and it took a lot to shape me into who I am. I am grateful to everyone who helped me get here. Hopefully, next year, they'll be better off because they saw what I did, and they'll continue to improve as a program." ■ Little, just the third Wolfpack wrestler to eclipse 100 career wins, earned All-America honors at the NCAA Championships in March. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS Little, who passed all of his classes from the previous year but had two courses not count towards his degree, opened the season 15-8 while on his own. "I wasn't allowed to be with my team- mates, and that hurt significantly," he said. "I'm not trying to make excuses for my losses, but it took its toll on me. I had to work out late at night by myself a lot. It was rough, it wore me out and it drained me." When Little was reunited with the team, though, he dedicated the season to his team-

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