By Jimmy Allinder
Dylan O’Connor wrestles for Bishop George Ahr High School and is the defending NJSIAA District 19 champion at 126 pounds.
O’Connor could very well be satisfied with what he’s accomplished as he begins his senior year. But that’s never been and never will be part of his make-up.
That relentless drive is what his coach, Nick Tonzola, considers one of O’Connor’s best qualities and that coachability, as he calls it, could propel him to earning a trip to the state championships in Atlantic City, which is his ultimate goal.
“Dylan is one of our best wrestlers, but what makes him special is he’s willing to listen to the advice from others with more experience,” Tonzola said. “He’s also one of the hardest workers in the practice room, and that’s going to help him even more. I have high expectations for Dylan this season.”
Tonzola has seen a number of outstanding wrestlers make it to the state finals, which is the pinnacle of New Jersey high school wrestling, and the coach believes O’Connor can too.
O’Connor heralded his arrival as one of the top 126-pounders in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) when he finished third in the conference tournament with a 3-0 decision over Jack Quinn of Woodbridge High School. After defeating Quinn again by a 3-2 margin to win the postseason district title, O’Connor earned what he considers his most memorable moment on the mat.
Last year proved to be an important stepping stone for O’Connor, not only because he won the districts, but also because had the chance to wrestle one of the state’s best at the regionals: Kyle DiNapoli of Voorhees High School.
DiNapoli finished runner-up in the state championships and dominated O’Connor by scoring a 9-1 major decision. However, the bout was a measuring stick as to how more work was required of O’Connor if he expects to make it to Atlantic City.
O’Connor combines his drive and willingness to learn with a quiet, confident demeanor.
“I consider myself to be very hard working, and I’m always striving to be the best, whether it’s wrestling or anything else I do,” he said. “In my mind, [those assets] give me the advantage over my opponent, who might not be willing to work as hard as me.”
Since he entered the Bishop Ahr program as a freshman, O’Connor has improved by leaps and bounds. After a 13-17 record, he finished 25-12 as a sophomore and culminated his junior year with not only a district crown, but also by reaching the coveted 30-win mark (30-10).
Despite his dedication to wrestling, O’Connor’s first priority, as it has been throughout high school, is academics. He has earned a 3.7 grade-point average by prioritizing wrestling a close second to schoolwork.
“I try my best to do homework during any free time I have throughout the school day,” he said. “I can get pretty tired after running and practice, so I don’t want to have any more work hanging over my head.”
O’Connor says his current plan after graduation is to wrestle for an NCAA Division III program in the Northeast while working for a degree in engineering.
He says his mother, Janet, father, David, and brother, Michael, have given him unconditional support throughout his wrestling career.
“They have gone through a lot to help me, not only during the wrestling season, but [also] when I travel around the country to compete at offseason tournaments,” O’Connor said. “I can’t thank them enough for how dedicated they have been with making sure I can succeed in this sport I love.”
As for the rest of his high school career, O’Connor says everything he has learned has convinced him that “keeping my head where it needs to be” will be his focus next season.
“I really don’t go through any mental checklist,” he said about what he thinks about before stepping on to the mat. “When I’m warming up on deck, I just focus on the hard work and practice that has made me good at wrestling, and that builds up my confidence.”
The results speak for themselves.