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Senior DJ Milano posted a career record of 70-23 with the East Haven wrestling team, winning the SCC title at 106 pounds as a junior last winter. (Photo courtesy of DJ Milano )
Between his father, uncle, and numerous cousins, DJ Milano grew up in a family of wrestlers. When it was his turn to compete, DJ wanted to bring an aggressive style to the mat for the East Haven wrestling team and, during the course of his career, he’s become both a champion and a role model with the Yellowjackets.
DJ, a senior, started wrestling at the club level in North Haven when he was eight years old. DJ’s father Dominic Milano, Sr., and uncle Anthony Milano, Jr., helped get him involved in the sport, and his cousin Anthony would often watch film with him to help him improve his wrestling technique. However, even with plenty of people behind him, it took some time for DJ to learn the ropes of wrestling.
“It took a little time getting used to. There was so much time and dedication you had to put into it,” DJ says. “There’s definitely a lot of effort in learning it. It took three or four years to get into the groove.”
In 6th grade, DJ began wrestling for Joseph Melillo Middle School and Team Tugman Wrestling in Branford. During his 7th-grade season, he realized that he had potential in the sport.
“I improved all around as a wrestler. I started winning more matches, using different moves, and hitting different techniques. I was doing higher-end moves that you wouldn’t see a 7th-grader use,” says DJ. “It all started clicking. I realized I really love this. This is fun.”
With experience wrestling for both Team Tugman and his middle school squad, DJ was prepared to make the transition and compete at the high school level. Unfortunately, DJ suffered a broken right hip in the December before his freshman season and was forced to miss his entire first year with the Yellowjackets.
However, instead of letting his injury derail him, DJ knew that he needed to get back on the mat. Although it was a tough road to recovery, DJ did everything he could to return and was able to do so with Team Tugman that May and then the Yellowjackets at the start of his sophomore season.
“My family and my coaches played a big part. They were all for it. They told me to do what I have to do and take my time. They told me I had to get back to the grind,” DJ says. “It was tough. There was a lot of strength behind it. I had to toughen up.”
While competing for the Yellowjackets as a sophomore, DJ found that his transition into high school wrestling was made easier by his teammates. DJ says that athletes like Josh Rao and Victor Garcia, who were both seniors at the time, helped him get through the season and make great strides as a wrestler.
In his junior year, DJ advanced to the final of the 106-pound division at the SCC Championship, taking on Antonio Madero for the title. Going into the tournament, DJ knew that Madero was going to be his main competition. After not being able to face Madero during the regular season, DJ was excited to take him on in the final.
Following a back-and-forth matchup, DJ pinned Madero at the 5:28 mark of the bout to win SCC title at 106 pounds. DJ would go on to finish in third place at the Class M State Championship to cap off his junior campaign. In his two seasons with the Yellowjackets, DJ compiled an overall record of 70-23.
“During the season, I was the big guy in the SCC. I had a target on my back. I was the No. 1 seed at the SCC Tournament,” says DJ. “It was a grudge match. I ended up pinning him at the end of the third period. It was just a great feeling.”
Head Coach Mark Tolla says that DJ’s grit and determination exemplify the type of attitude that he wants the Easties’ younger athletes to embrace. Between DJ’s work ethic and his abilities on the mat, Coach Tolla knows that the senior will continue to serve as a leading example for the Yellowjackets’ next generation of wrestlers even after he graduates.
“I’ve known DJ since he was in middle school. He is very personable. He’s a great kid. He works extremely hard on the mat. He is always a kid that is on task and has become a really good technician,” Tolla says. “He wrestles with a little bit of grit. Wrestling is a hard sport, and DJ is our best example of what we’re trying to demonstrate. He has established himself.”
While DJ quickly fell in love with wrestling, it took hours upon hours of hard work for him to get to the point where he could win a SCC title. DJ believes that wresting is one of the most challenging sports around, and it means a lot to him that he’s succeeded alongside his teammates in East Haven.
“It’s definitely one of the hardest sports out there. It’s not easy,” says DJ. “You have to have a certain mentality to be able to go out there and take sacrifices. It’s definitely something to be proud about, though. Most people can’t take it mentality or physically. It’s a hard sport.”