How different things could have been for the River Dell wrestling team.
Former standout wrestler Daryl Cocozzo, could have decided to take his talents to Bergen Catholic, right near his Oradell home.
He instead chose to stay with his friends and attend his local public school where he became arguably the most accomplished wrestler in school history.
“I had a lot of fun at River Dell,” said the 23-year-old Cocozzo, who wrestled varsity all four years of high school.
As a freshman, Cocozzo wrested at 103 pounds, but came up short in the state tournament, losing to eventual third-place finisher Jimmy Conroy by one point.
Junior year, Cocozzo bumped up to 135 pounds and finished fifth in the state. His senior year, he entered the state tournament undefeated. He reached the state final, but fell to three time state champion Frank Molinaro (Southern Regional).
Cocozzo, a 2006 River Dell graduate, finished his high school wrestling career with a school record 140 wins. He was a four-time Cutter Classic champion, a four-time Bergen County finalist, four-time district champion, a Region 2 champ, and Bergen County champion. He also finished third in the senior nationals.
“What I love most about wrestling is the hard work it takes to actually be competitive,” said Cocozzo, who has began wrestling as a six-year-old. “It takes a lot of blood and sweat to even step on the mat and people really respect what we do.
“I believe that wrestling is the toughest sport and really prepares us for the real world.”
After graduating from River Dell, Cocozzo attended Edinboro University for two years. He qualified for the nationals in both his freshman and sophomore years, and won the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) title and Eastern Wrestling League Conference title.
Cocozzo transferred to Rutgers, where he wrestled in his final two years of eligibility. He starred as a 157-pounder, qualifying for nationals, and finishing in the top 16 in the nation. After the 2009-10 season, Cocozzo was ranked No. 20 in the NCAA Coaches Panel Rankings. He picked up 29 wins his senior year, and pinned Danny Orem of Maryland in 34 seconds. The former Scarlet Knight, who graduated in the spring with a degree in Communication, earned 104 career wins at the collegiate level (56 at Rutgers, 48 at Edinboro).
Over the years, Cocozzo said he looked up to all of his coaches.
“They really helped me along the way,” he said, “not only with wrestling, but my personal life.”
Cocozzo, who is also a mixed martial arts fan, trained with UFC champion Frankie Edgar.
“He really showed me what it takes to be a champion.”
Cocozzo now coaches youth wrestling while searching for full-time employment.
“Searching for jobs isn’t too much fun,” he said, “but I’m happy that I get to stay involved in wrestling and share my knowledge and love for the sport.”