Former Derry wrestler Jimmy Gulibon learning ropes at Penn State

| Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012, 9:15 p.m.

When you talk to Jimmy Gulibon, he comes across as soft-spoken and easy going. He's not overly talkative — humble, you could say.

When he gets on the wrestling mat, however, it's the complete opposite. He combines his lightning-quick moves with his strength and intensity to form an aggressive approach.

After a heralded career at Derry, Gulibon is a redshirt freshman on the Penn State wrestling team. The Nittany Lions, perhaps now the premier wrestling program in America, have won the past two NCAA Division I National Championships and appear poised to win a third this season.

Despite the redshirt to adjust to a much higher level of competition and campus life, Gulibon (133 pounds) has seized every opportunity to make the most of his first year in Happy Valley.

“It's really been a great experience so far,” he said. “I go in every day and just do the best I can to keep improving and try to get better. I really like everything about the program and university. The coaches, my teammates and facilities are all really amazing.”

He also doesn't have to look far to find top-notch competition to train with on a daily basis.

Penn State (4-0 and ranked No. 2) has a bevy of All-Americans and highly touted wrestlers.

“Practicing here has been incredible,” he said. “The level of competition and intensity is amazing. Every day is very hard but very rewarding. The team is great, and there are so many great wrestlers — it just forces you to go so hard every day.”

Much like most of his teammates, Gulibon came to Penn State after a successful high school career. Gulibon won four straight PIAA championships — an extremely rare feat — and posted a career 134-4 mark for the Trojans. He also won four Powerade National championships, and competed in the 2012 Dream Team tournaments.

Despite the redshirt, Gulibon got to wrestle in the esteemed Nittany Lion Open in early December. As far as collegiate debuts go, it couldn't have gone much better.

Gulibon went 4-1, with the lone defeat coming in the finals — an intense 3-2 loss to Lehigh's Mason Beckman.

“It was a great start,” he said “I was a little nervous and hesitant at first. Once I relaxed and started to open up, I did a lot better. I learned some things I need to improve on, and I can't wait to see (Beckman) again.”

Gulibon recorded wins over Clarion's Hunter Jones (15-0), Central Michigan's Mark Grey (8-6) and teammate Frank Martelotti (7-2) prior to the finals.

Gulibon said one of the biggest adjustments in the transition from the WPIAL to the NCAA — especially at its top level — is simply getting through the challenging day-to-day practices. While he said he spent more time practicing in high school, it's the toll of matching up against elite competition on a daily basis that becomes a grind in college.

“Now the biggest difference is just everybody here is very good,” he said. “All my teammates wrestle very hard. The thing I really like, though, is when you do have bad practices the coaches here do a great job of getting you back on track.”

Gulibon will be in action again Jan. 1-2 at the Southern Scuffle — a two-day tournament in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“It's almost time to go again,” he said. “I'm very excited for the challenge of going down there.”

Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.

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