Bound for Brown: State Runner Up James Corbett Moving On to the Ivy League

It was all in a day’s work for James Corbett. Early morning weigh-in? Check. Take (and do well on) the all-important SATs (while wearing a singlet underneath clothes to save time). Check. Get back to the gym and win a number of matches for Wantagh. Check.

Days like that one, from Corbett’s junior season, are an illustration of what Warriors head coach Paul Gillespie identified as one of Corbett’s strengths – balancing his academics and wrestling.

“James has always managed his time so well,” Gillespie said. “His academics have always come first but he also made sure to get his lifting and working out in too. His time management skills are one of the many reasons I know he’ll do really well at the college level.”

Photo by BV

That college experience will take place in Providence, Rhode Island where Corbett, the 2013 New York State Division I runner up at 182 pounds, will begin his Ivy League education in the fall.

“I knew Brown was where I wanted to be,” Corbett said. “I liked how the curriculum worked, where you make your own schedule. They have a really good science program that I want to be involved in [as an environmental science major]. And I knew I wanted to go Division I in wrestling. I didn’t speak to a single other college. I thought the match was really good for me.”

With his commitment, Corbett joined the elite company of two of his teammates. Chris Araoz and Danny McDevitt previously announced their plans to attend Ivy institutions (Columbia and Penn, respectively).

“I think it’s almost expected of Wantagh seniors to go Division I and to strive for an Ivy school,” Corbett said. “Coach Gillespie knows how to get us there. McDevitt and Araoz are good friends of mine and they already had their plans figured out earlier on. They had colleges talking to them before the season and honestly, I didn’t have the credentials, so colleges weren’t talking to me.”

While Corbett didn’t yet have statewide recognition prior to the 2012-13 campaign, he had plenty of success in Nassau County. As a sophomore, he put together a campaign with over 35 wins that ended with a first round loss at the Section 8 tournament. In his junior season, he again piled up victories with a 32-6 mark, despite wrestling at a number of different weight classes in the lineup. A late-season move up to 182 yielded a fourth place finish at the County tournament that didn’t bring about an appearance in Albany, but did pay future dividends.

“As the season went on, I kept growing,” he said. “I had to cut more and more weight and Coach Gillespie told me to just go up to 182. He said my style would be fine there and since I would be wrestling there anyway as a senior, I might as well get ready.”

Corbett did several other things to prepare for his last campaign in Wantagh.

“James really worked hard in his weight training,” Gillespie said. “And I think working hard in the offseason with [former Hofstra All-American] PJ Gillespie and Danny McDevitt also really helped raise his level. His technique improved drastically.”

“Working with a college All-American like PJ and a high school All-American like Danny was so important for me,” Corbett added. “They were great drilling partners. I didn’t really do any big tournaments or events in the offseason but I went into the Wantagh room and drilled and focused on my technique. PJ got me so much better, really fast. I think it was the last part of the puzzle that helped my high school career.”

That improvement was obvious from the very beginning of the season. In the opening weekend, he posted a pair of first period pins and a 15-0 technical fall in his three bouts.

And two weeks later, in Wantagh’s next competition, he posted four victories – including three by fall. However, it was the only non-bonus point win, a 5-2 decision over returning All-State wrestler Gio Santiago of Sachem North, that was most significant.

“Coming in, I thought Santiago might be the best 182 pounder in the state,” Gillespie said. “When James beat him, I had a good indication of how much better he had become. It gave him a lot of confidence and at that point, I thought he could challenge for the state title.”

Corbett agreed that the victory gave him a boost, but he said he really started to believe that he could make a big splash at the Times Union Center after taking third at the challenging Eastern States Classic, where his only loss came to returning state champion Zack Zupan, a Division II grappler headed to Binghamton.

“I went into the Eastern States without looking at a bracket, just knowing that many of the best wrestlers in New York would be there,” he said. “I just wanted to wrestle well and when I placed high, I thought there wouldn’t be too many guys in the state who could beat me. It gave me a lot of confidence about what I could do the rest of the year.”

What he did for much of the rest of the year was simple – he dominated. He won 13 bouts in a row after the big tournament at SUNY Sullivan, with all but two victories coming with bonus points. One of those regular decisions was a 7-1 triumph over Plainedge’s Robert Ng to earn the Nassau crown and his first trip to the state championships.

He had a distinctive style that helped him along the way, according to Gillespie.

“James has a boxer’s mentality,” the coach said. “He’s a very physical guy, who lost a few points because of how physical he sometimes was. But it was good in a lot of ways since wrestling is basically a controlled fight.”

“I do like wrestling in a really physical way,” Corbett agreed. “I want to be on top of my opponents and let them know that I’m there and I’m not going anywhere. I guess the thing I learned this year was not to be that way in the practice room. But in matches, it’s a big part of how I compete.”

It worked well. He began his journey at the state tournament with a pin and a pair of decisions to punch his ticket to the Saturday night finals. But he made sure to treat the entire experience like any other event.

“[Being at the state tournament] wasn’t different for me, because I wouldn’t let myself see it that way,” he said. “I stayed in the locker room until it was time to wrestle and then I made sure I was looking down and not at the crowd when I was walking to the mat. Then, after my matches, I came back and found a quiet spot in the locker room until it was time to wrestle again. I think that’s why I wasn’t really impacted by my first trip to [the state tournament].”

Photo by BV

In the finals, Corbett and returning state finalist Shayne Brady of Carthage were deadlocked at 3 at the end of regulation. In sudden victory, Brady, who will wrestle at North Carolina State, got a takedown to earn the gold medal and send Corbett to the silver.

“I felt that I wrestled consistently the whole weekend, which is what I wanted,” Corbett said. “[Brady] got in and got the points he needed. That’s the sport. There were plenty of times this year when I needed a takedown to win or a rideout to win and I got it. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for the season I had.”

He also expressed gratitude for being part of the Wantagh program. After all, the squad did a lot of winning, including capturing New York’s biggest events in 2012-13 – the Union-Endicott Duals, the Eastern States and the New York States. Picking up all of those honors is something Corbett said he felt Wantagh was supposed to do.

“When I was in eighth grade, the team led by guys like Paul Ligouri and Johnny Greisheimer set the tone for what was expected,” he said. “They inspired us and made us feel like we should win all the time. But I think the coaching staff and the family feel are what really makes it special. Everyone’s close. Coach Gillespie might call you on a Sunday afternoon just to see how things are going – even in the offseason. There’s a great vibe in the room.”

That room has produced a number of current Division I wrestlers and that number will change again in the fall, including the addition of Corbett as a 184 or 197 pounder to the Brown roster.

Environmental science and Division I wrestling at one of the nation’s top universities? It’s all in a day’s work for James Corbett.


James Corbett wished to thank “anyone who ever coached me or gave me help in any way, shape or form, especially in the wrestling community.”


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