December 1, 2011

Beyond the Mat: Dave Pucci

Tim Jackson, the Head Editor of the school newspaper, has agreed to join the wrestling program for a season-long series of articles highlighting the program and it's wrestlers through stories from both on and off the mat.  Tim has put together an extensive series of article topics. Below is the fifth story in the series.

I sat down with senior Dave Pucci on Veterans Day and, in light of our conversation, I probably could not have picked a better day to do it. While he has aspirations to work in Washington D.C. for the government, Pucci is currently studying for the Pilot Test to get into the United States Marine Corps.

"I don't really want to sit in an office as a 22-year old," Pucci said. "I want to develop my leadership skills. I want to do something that separates me from the norm. I can work in an office and make money later."

Seeing as most kids from F&M do not include the military in their prospective careers list, my conversation with Pucci was one of the most interesting I have had in quite awhile. Students from colleges and universities cast in the mold of F&M rarely consider the military as a viable option for after college. However, because of his physical and mental makeup, it seems right that Pucci would want to separate himself from the norm.

"He's tough," assistant coach Matt Greenberg said. "He never complains. Sometimes guys lay it on him pretty good [on the mat], but he's always looking to get better. If I need someone to be with me in a dark alley, it's him. He's a good friend. He does the right thing when nobody is watching or listening."

Unlike the other three seniors on the wrestling squad, Pucci is not a captain. While many people would struggle and complain if they were in his position, Pucci has elected to respect it and contribute to the program in any way he can.

"I think I have a leadership role," Pucci said. "I think my role is to be a leader. I've seen a lot of guys quit. I show up to everything and never complain. I'm always on time. I just try to lead by example and leave the vocal stuff to [the captains]."

Although Pucci is not listed as a captain on the roster, he is treated like one by both his coaches and his peers.

"He's one of the people I go to when I need to get a read on the team," Greenberg said. "Even more so than some of the captains. I still look at him as a captain. From my perspective, he is one."

Pucci has never been the flashiest or most successful wrestler on the squad. He joined the team as a walk-on, and he rarely starts a meet. Despite this, when he does get a chance to wrestle, those in the stands will be hard pressed to find a wrestler on either team that works and wrestles harder than Pucci does.

He respects the sport. When asked about what wrestling had taught him over the course of his life, it was obvious Pucci possesses a deep affinity and respect for it. It has taught him how to conduct himself in life, and he knows how to make each and every chance he receives count.

"There's a tremendous value in getting the crap beat out of you and having to come back the next day," Pucci said. "There's a lot of focus on details. Details, the small details are what allow the big things to come out. They aren't hard, but you have to do them. They all need to be performed in order to succeed. I can relate that to everything I do. If you put in the details, you'll generally do pretty well."

"While he may not get the results athletically, we still hold him up as a guy who will be successful in life," Greenberg said. "I would bet on him any day of the week. It's important to us that it's not just what you do on the mat [that counts]."

By appreciating the details and the finer rewards that come with the sport, Pucci has developed an ability to simply love wrestling for what it is, and not the awards and praise that comes with winning matches.

"Wrestling has been a really interesting experience for me because I haven't had tons of success on the mat," Pucci said. "That hasn't happened for me for one reason or another. I'm beyond trying to be a national champion or All-American now, and I'm truly just trying to enjoy it. I have taken so much from wrestling and none of it has to do with the wins and losses."

Even though he doesn't start and doesn't receive the accolades and attention some of his teammates do, Pucci is genuinely happy and excited about the role he has with the team and is doing everything he can to help propel F&M wrestling to the next level. He does not seem to care whether or not he gets credit for helping turn the team around, and he approaches his role and duty with the team with a sense of urgency and dedication unmatched by just about everyone.

By working so hard to boost the profile of the program, Pucci has improved himself more than many people thought he would.

"When I got here, he was one of the guys who put the most time in and made the most gains to where he is today," Greenberg said. "He has been one of the people who has grown the most. He wanted to be competitive in our room and go out and compete whenever he could."

Pucci is not just unique on the mat, but he is distinctive off it as well. Over the summer, he traveled down to Ecuador, where he spent his break working for a start up company.

"I was working for a start up and they make different types of green teas," Pucci said. "I was doing economic research and looking into the cost benefits of mass producing the product. The company is also a social entrepreneurship, so they want to avoid exploiting the people."

Working in Ecuador for the summer only further supports Pucci's desire and aspiration to separate himself from the rest of the pack. Simply sitting still and letting time and opportunities pass by are not in his DNA. He is always striving to be different while also meeting his own high standards and seeking to be the best he can.

As a senior, Pucci's remaining time at F&M is short. During his three years at the school thus far, he has left a distinctive mark on the program as he seeks to improve both it and himself. He approaches everything he does with a sense of urgency and a drive to always complete his task to the best of his ability.

Through all the trials he has endured during his collegiate wrestling career, it would have been easy for him to just quit and move on. Few would have blamed him. But Pucci gets the sense he is a part of something special, and he can't stand the thought of turning his back on his teammates and coaches. His experiences in wrestling to this point have given him an appreciation for whatever opportunities he receives now.

"I blew my knee out on [head coach Mike] Rogers' third day on the job," Pucci said. "Last year, I sat out and had the pleasure of watching the initial transition period. I'm just happy to be back and to help the new guys along. I'm excited to help us improve."

There's something special about Pucci. His dedication and love for the team and the sport itself shine through in every word he says. In all likelihood, you won't see his name in any kind of record book when his career is over. However, he will have left his mark. Just like Pucci himself, that mark will be distinctive and profound, and it will resonate throughout the F&M wrestling community.

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