Quiet Amato wins 120-pound gold

Timber Creek's John Amato (standing) bested Paulsboro's Mike Morina in the 120-pound final. GREGG KOHL / For The Inquirer
Timber Creek's John Amato (standing) bested Paulsboro's Mike Morina in the 120-pound final. GREGG KOHL / For The Inquirer
Posted: March 03, 2014

John Amato is an unassuming member of an exclusive club.

He's thinking it might be a good time to change that - for one weekend, anyway.

Amato is a three-time region wrestling champion. Those guys are rare athletes, and they tend to carry themselves with a sure-footed swagger that reflects their success in this most demanding of sports.

Amato is different. He walks softly and talks the same way.

But he has decided, at the last stage of an illustrious career, that it might be time to put a little more edge in his attitude.

"I know I have to go out and get it done," Amato, a senior at Timber Creek, said of his goal of placing high in the state tournament next weekend at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. "It's all mental for me."

Amato won his third Region 8 title Saturday night at Egg Harbor Township High School.

Wrestling at 120 pounds, Amato defeated Paulsboro junior Mike Morina by a 9-0 score - a methodical victory that was right in tune with his sure, steady, understated approach to the sport.

Amato isn't flashy. But he is 113-20 in his high school career.

"Not many guys can win three region titles," Timber Creek coach Dave Ritz said. "It shows you just how good of a wrestler that John is."

Amato was part of a small army of top Timber Creek wrestlers during most of his career. This season was different, as the Chargers were in a bit of a rebuilding mode after the graduation of several top wrestlers, such as Brandon Keller and Bryce Shade.

Ritz said Amato was the Chargers' leader in his own quiet, unassuming way.

"He's the hardest worker in the room," Ritz said. "He led by example more than by talking. As a coach, it made it easy for me.

"I could just say, 'You want to get better, work as hard as John.' "

Amato said he enjoyed this regular season despite the Chargers' occasional struggles against better teams.

"In the past, we had so many good guys, but we weren't as tight as a team," Amato said.

"This year, we had a bond. I was focused on making us better as a team. When we fell off a little bit, Coach said to me, 'Now take care of your own business.' "

Amato cruised through District 30 and Region 8. He improved his season record to 34-3 with his victory over Morina.

But the one thing that Amato has not done in his career is place at states. He lost twice at Boardwalk Hall in 2012, and went 1-2 last season.

"He's a top-three-in-the-state wrestler," Ritz said. "But he hasn't gotten it done down there. That's what's pushing him."

Amato and Ritz both say the wrestler's struggles in the big room off the Boardwalk have been related to his mental approach.

He's almost been too respectful of his opponents.

"John sometimes has to feel his way into a match," Ritz said. "You can't do that down there."

Amato said he has walked onto the mat in Atlantic City five times and felt the same way every time: out of sorts.

"I always go out nervous," said Amato, who lives in Sicklerville. "It's like I hear [the opposing wrestler's] name and I know I can beat him, but I don't take that approach right away. I have to change that."

Amato has fashioned a remarkable career. He has a lot of big wins in a lot of big moments, and Saturday night was another one.

It's not his nature to puff out his chest about his accomplishments. But he figures it might be a good idea to walk into Boardwalk Hall on Friday night as if he knows he's a three-time region champion.


panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

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