By Kyle LoJacono
Most wrestlers work their entire high school career for a chance at winning a state title. Wharton senior Tyler Liberatore has won so many he doesn’t even know where his medals are.
“I might be able to find one or two, but I don’t know offhand,” Liberatore said.
Liberatore claimed his first state title while in eighth grade at Tampa Prep, the Class 1A 112-pound crown. He was not intimidated by the state meet as he finished fifth at the event the year before.
“It was surreal,” Liberatore said. “It’s a state title; it’s what everybody wants. There’s a certain aura about state championships. I’ve wrestled in bigger national tournaments, but there is something about state championships that are different. It’s not as great as winning the first one.”
Liberatore followed his first title up by winning the 3A 130- and 135-pound championships during his sophomore and junior years, respectively, while at Brandon High. Liberatore’s family moved into Wharton High’s district in New Tampa this year and the Wildcats have benefited from his experience.
“The thing I really admire about him is he came in and was the best wrestler here, but he doesn’t act like that,” said coach David Mitchell, who started Wharton’s program when the school opened in 1997. “He works hard and is willing to help other kids get better. That humble attitude is what I really like about him. I was a little concerned knowing what he’s done, but he’s fit right in and been a big help to our program.”
Daniel Terrazas Jr. regularly practices against Liberatore and has seen his experience and knowledge rub off on the Wildcats.
“He’s really helped out the whole team,” Terrazas said. “His technique is so good and he can see things we’re doing wrong that we didn’t even know we were doing. He showed us new ways to do things.”
Liberatore has become like another coach, regularly stopping practice to go over technique. He also gives tips to his teammates as they grapple or while watching from the side, while also forcing them to improve simply by competing with him for mat time.
Mitchell said he has never had an athlete like Liberatore going back to when he coached at Leto from 1982-97.
“He’s on a different level,” Mitchell said. “He came from a program at Brandon that is a top notch program not only in the state, but in the nation. That’s all they do there is breed wrestlers. He comes from over there and he sets the bar high.”
Liberatore’s wrestling journey started when he picked up the sport at age 9 because his older brother, Stan, was doing the same.
“He started wrestling just randomly, and then I started too and I liked it,” Liberatore said. “I was playing baseball in Little League in Citrus Park. I didn’t like baseball at all and wrestling was a lot more fun. … There’s nothing else like (wrestling). I don’t think there’s anything else quite as intense. There’s nothing that makes you go 6-9 minutes hard without a break. It’s constant.
“It’s you and the other guy across from you and nothing else,” Liberatore continued. “Who’s going to win and there’s nothing else but the two of you. I feel like with other sports you have to depend on other people. I’m a very independent guy. With a team sport you have to worry about what everyone else is doing. I’m comfortable in my capabilities, and that’s all I have to worry about.”
Liberatore spends about 20 hours a week honing his wrestling skills.
“I consider myself a very good technician,” Liberatore said. “I’m not the strongest, but I’m not weak. I’m fast and I’m technically sound, and I pride myself in that. I try and work angles.”
Liberatore just won his fourth straight Hillsborough County championship on Jan. 28 and followed that up with the Class 3A-District 7 138-pound title on Feb. 4. He has a 50-0 record this season, following a 50-0 campaign last year and back-to-back 60-1 years as a freshman and sophomore.
He hasn’t lost in almost two years, but Liberatore said he feels no pressure to complete another perfect season en route to becoming Wharton’s first state wrestling champion.
“I think there’s a plan for everything, so I just go out and do my best and if I win it was supposed to happen,” Liberatore said.
Liberatore has already signed to wrestle at Arizona State University, where he plans on studying business. His goals while a Sun Devil are to get his master’s degree and bring home national championships.
His next challenge on the mat is the regional tournament at Brandon Feb. 10-11. The 3A state meet is at the Lakeland Center Feb. 17-18.
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