Nate Casella the wrestler isn't Nate Casella the football player.
On the mat, the Wilde Lake senior competes with a fraction of the grit and determination he uses on the football field, where he was The Baltimore Sun's Howard County Player of the Year in 1992.
He professes modesty about his drive to wrestle, stretching so far as to admit he's "lazy."
"I'm not a die-hard wrestler, I'm a die-hard football player," he said. "I don't want to let down coach [Richard] Jackson, but I usually need people to motivate me like my family, my brothers. But once I get into it after a few weeks, everything takes care of itself."
As a junior, he finished 23-4 at 171 pounds, capturing the county and Class 1A/2A Region titles. Now with a 15-2 record, he is the Maryland State Wrestling Association's fifth-ranked 189-pounder.
After the 12-1 Wildecats won their third consecutive 1A football title last fall, Mr. Versatility in pads needed time to recuperate, as proven by early results on the mat.
In his first match, he lost to Loyola's David Daniecki. Shortly after in the competitive Douglas Tournament's semifinals, Bowie's Scott Wascavage beat him, leaving Casella in third place. Daniecki and Wascavage are the MSWA's No. 3 and No. 4 wrestlers (189), respectively.
Casella started getting in gear in the prestigious Arundel Tournament's finals last month. Confronting an opponent from Virginia's Independence High who had 65 career pins, he scored a 12-5 decision.
Since then, he has manhandled wrestlers one-by-one, including Hammond's tough Pat Brennan. One of the Wildecats' leading pinners, Casella has eight this season, along with two technical falls.
Jackson, who's coaching for the 22nd season, has tutored many auspicious wrestlers, including Andy Brown, Wilde Lake's state champion in the mid-1980s (112). He senses a state title awaits Casella -- if the wrestler has the desire.
"He's almost there in wrestling, but not as of yet," said Jackson, whose team is 7-2 in dual meets, having lost to Hammond and Oakland Mills, the county's two best teams.
"If he reaches his potential and capability, I don't think anybody can stop him in states."
Assistant coach Mike Anderson echoes Jackson's sentiment: "If he showed the same intensity throughout the season as he does in counties and regionals, nobody in the state would be better."
Casella, a transplant from Northeastern Pennsylvania, comes from a family with athletic tradition.
His father, Bob, tried out for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the late 1960s, and his brothers, Adam and Ben, were state wrestling finalists at Wilde Lake.
A wrestler since sixth grade, when he went 12-0 in the junior leagues, Casella credits his brothers for helping him, albeit indirectly.
"What made me what I am is having two older brothers beat me all the time," Casella said. "They would beat the crap out of me. It toughens you up and it's no fun, until you get bigger than them."
His brothers may no longer outsize him, but Casella's average weigh-in is 5 to 10 pounds under 189.
It's no disadvantage, however, for the 5-foot-11 wrestler who bench-presses 300 pounds and handles opponents with powerful forearms and legs. He also uses an uncanny ability to maneuver well on his feet, scoring a lot of takedown points.
Mike Green, another star football player-wrestler at Wilde Lake, is a 171-pounder who experiences Casella's toughness when they duel in practice. On the heels of last season's county and regional titles (160) and a third-place finish in states, Green is up on Casella's impressive array of moves.
"He muscles some of the biggest guys and that's intimidating," Green said. "When he wants to, he can take you down on your feet. He also likes to sit on his butt and wait for you to shift weight.
"He makes you think that you've got him in trouble, but uses a cross-face, which takes a lot of confidence out of a wrestler."
For Casella, who is considering pursuing college football at two Division II Pennsylvania schools, Lock Haven and Shippensburg, state wrestling title is now or never.
He worries if there's enough heart within him to get it done.
"Right now when I go on the mat with a good wrestler, there's a chance he could beat me," Casella said.
"I can wrestle with anybody in the state, but I'd have an edge if I pushed myself."