DADE CITY — Arguably one of the best matches from the 2016 high school wrestling state meet was the Class 2A 126-pound final between five-time state champion Kyle Norstrem of Brandon and Pasco High's John DeAugustino.
The matchup had Rocky themes running rampant. Norstrem hadn't lost a match in two years, nor had he given up a take down all 2015-16 season in high school competition. DeAugustino came into the match 51-6, three of the six losses coming at the hands of Norstrem. That failed to faze DeAugustino as he readied for the match.
"John knew what he was up against (in Norstrem) but in his head, he knew he could beat him," said Pasco High wrestling coach and John's dad, Mark DeAugustino. "That's just how he approaches every match."
What unfolded was one of the more thrilling matches of the season. Officials made an excruciatingly close call on what would have been a DeAugustino take down pull DeAugustino to within a point of Norstrem with a minute left in the match.
"John was on fire that whole tournament," Mark DeAugustino said. "That match could have been state wrestling folklore."
Norstrem ultimately won 11-6 and become just the fifth wrestler ever to win five state titles. Norstrem now wrestles at Virginia Tech and DeAugustino faces the long, hard road back to the state finals.
"It's like there's a weight on my shoulders, to have performed so well at state, everyone expects the same thing again," DeAugustino said. "It's harder on the comeback side, everyone knows you and they wrestle you differently. It's almost like you're defending a state title."
With the 2016 state champ graduated, certainly all eyes fall upon the runner-up in the weight class as being the favorite. It's a level of pressure that could shred a weaker will.
DeAugustino is part of Pasco's Champions Club, a workout program that has the junior waking up at 5:15 a.m. five days a week to work out in the high school gym before classes start. DeAugustino saw similarly sized teammates graduate last season and now works with 160-pounder Angel Hernandez to get practice matches in.
He does the jobs no one else wants to do — on the team and in life. That became apparent one weekend when DeAugustino was helping on his girlfriend's family's cattle ranch in Dade City. A cow had a prolapsed uterus and DeAugustino was tasked with both delivering the calf and putting the uterus back inside the womb, not a task many high school juniors would be up to.
Even with DeAugustino's fanatic dedication, there are no byes, there is no easy path back to the top of the mountain. DeAugustino has already lost four matches this season, albeit against elite competition. He lost 5-3 to Orlando Boone's Lucas Rodriguez in the Hernando Kiwanis Invitational. Rodriguez was a Class 3A state placer in 2016 and is one of the top-ranked wrestlers in the class this season. Then he fell in the Springstead finals to Flagler Palm Coast's Avery Holder, another Class 3A state placer from 2016.
The next two losses came at the George Jenkins Invite in Lakeland. Sommerset Academy junior Hector Candalaria, who wrestled for the Puerto Rican national team at the 2016 Cadet World Championships, edged DeAugustino 6-5 in the championship quarterfinals. Then in the consolation round, DeAugustino fell 3-2 in triple overtime to Orlando Freedom's Marcus Jean-Baptiste. Two defending state champs didn't survive that bracket either.
The losses burn in DeAugustino's mind but he can also step back far enough to realize they're helping him.
"You definitely learn more from a loss," John DeAugustino said. "When you win, you see what you did right but when you lose, it helps you not make that same mistake again."
DeAugustino still has not lost to anyone in Class 2A. Both DeAugustinos grasp just how tough it is to make it back to the state finals. Neither is intimidated. They know they've put the work in.