By the time Canton High School wrestler Eddie Marinilli steps onto the mat, he’s already lived the moment. He has seen, in his mind, the flailing limbs, the thwack of a surrendering body on the mat.
“I visualize the match,” said Marinilli. “I think about what I’m going to do, how I’m going to do it. I plan everything out.”
His commitment to winning those matches drove him to an undefeated dual-meet season in his first year, when he routinely downed opponents older than him. He finished 41-6 — Canton’s best rookie record ever — and battled through the postseason as the second-seeded wrestler, coming back from a second-round loss to claim three consolation matches and earn fourth place at the MIAA All-State.
On the momentum of his outstanding season, he also won the Hockomock League title at the 126 weight class, a feat only one other Canton first-year wrestler has ever achieved.
The school’s head coach, Brian Caffelle, wanted Marinilli on his team before the youngster had ever set foot in Canton’s halls.
Caffelle had read in the local newspaper about Marinilli’s triumph in the 100-pound division of the Bay State Games in 2014. He started following the then 12-year-old’s progress right to the 2016 Youth New England Wrestling crown.
More than Marinilli’s impressive record, it was the small wrestler’s style that fueled the coach’s interest.
Before each match, Marinilli shadow-drills by himself, attacking invisible opponents before facing the real ones.
“He doesn’t spend a lot of time feeling out his opponent, trying to see what they can do,” said Caffelle. “He just gets right into his offense.”
Marinilli favors attacking both of his competitor’s legs, his matches often culminating in a double-leg takedown. It’s one of the first positions a wrestler learns but is very difficult to execute perfectly.
“A lot of times, guys will tend to nurse a lead a little bit. So if they’re up one, or up two, they’re not as aggressive,” said Caffelle. “Eddie’s the opposite. Eddie wants to end the match.”
Marinilli’s demeanor has impressed his older teammates, who had seen what he was capable of when he trained with the high school team while in eighth grade.
“We knew he was coming, but it was amazing to see,” said senior Justin Dickie. “He doesn’t wrestle with emotion. He’s calm; he’s smart.”
Unlike most high school wrestlers, Marinilli, who has Division 1 aspirations, clocks in six days a week at the Dungeon Training Center in Hanover year-round, spending usually three hours working out, eating little, and sleeping a lot.
All of it is done in his pursuit of greatness.
“I like winning,” he said. “I don’t like to lose; nobody likes to lose. If I don’t work hard, I won’t win.”
But beginning his career as a fourth-grader at Champions Building Champions youth club in Raynham, Marinilli could not win a match.
“Obviously, it’s not an enjoyable sport when you’re getting beat up all the time,” said his father, Ed Marinilli, who wrestled at the University of Massachusetts Boston and encouraged his son to try it.
Miserable with his situation, the younger Marinilli was faced with two options: He could submit to the losing, and quit, or he could change his attitude.
He kept at it, with one goal in mind: “I wanted to be the best,” he said.
Four years later, the former bottom of the pile was defeating all comers, and was doing it quickly. His parents switched him from Champions Building Champions, which had run out of wrestlers who could defeat Marinilli, to the Dungeon.
And coming into high school, Marinilli didn’t fit losing into his equation, even against seasoned seniors.
“They probably looked at me and thought, ‘Good, another freshman. An easy win,’” he said. “But it wasn’t.”
So when his first loss came in the Lowell Holiday tournament to Central Catholic senior Joe Sanchez, Marinilli, who had taken a week off from training, was frustrated, but not angry.
“He knows right off the bat what he did wrong, and he’ll tell you,” said his coach.
Marinilli took three blemishes on his otherwise sterling record into the postseason in February. While Canton was not projected to win the Division 3 sectionals or states, Marinilli had a plan for himself.
“My expectations were to be [an All-State] champ,” he said. “I knew coming in that I had the opportunity to win. My only plan was to win. I didn’t expect anything else.”
Marinilli rallied from behind at the sectionals and states, but after avenging his Lowell loss by taking down Sanchez, he suffered a final 10-7 decision to St. John’s Prep’s Malcolm Mitchell at the All-State.
“I knew there was more than one year of high school wrestling to win a state title,” he said. “I can do it next year.”
And nothing will stand in his way, except maybe one thing.
He is at the wrong weight for December. Dieting isn’t new to Marinilli, who like many wrestlers limits his calorie consumption to keep to a weight class. Still, he’s grown rapidly since middle school, moving up from the 106 class to the 126 class, to now weigh 145 pounds.
Time is running out: If he wants to compete at the 138 class, he’ll need to drop the extra pounds by his first match. He has to do it before Dec. 13, in an opener against Oliver Ames.
“My goals haven’t changed,” said Marinilli. “Last year, the goal was to win. This year, it’s the same.”Katherine Fominykh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.