Two years ago, Billy Damiana had a wrestling goal.
It was the WWE or bust for the 2009 Lower Cape May Regional High School graduate.
That dream didn’t go his way.
But that opened the door for another goal Damiana set when he was a kid — to become the wrestling coach at Lower Cape May Regional High School.
Jake Maxwell had himself some pizza and chicken wings just days after the state individual w…
The district Board of Education on Thursday approved Damiana’s hiring as the Caper Tigers’ coach.
“He’s going to do a good job,” Lower Cape May athletic director Mark Schiffbauer said Friday. “He’s going to make a difference, and we’re excited to have him. He brings a lot of energy. He has a good wrestling background, and hopefully it really helps him out.”
Damiana, who holds the school record for most career wins, got the job he always wanted.
“For that to finally happen, it’s almost surreal,” Damiana, 26, of Cape May, said Friday. “It’s my hometown, and I’m proud of the tradition. To get to take the reigns for a team you grew up watching is awesome.”
The Caper Tigers went 7-15 last season, sending two wrestlers to the state individual tournament — seniors Alexander Pruszinski and Mike Yorio, who was a first-team Press All-Star.
Damiana replaces Rocky Ciccozzi, who had held the position since 2006.
“He did an outstanding job,” Schiffbauer said. “I enjoyed having him as a head coach for me and working alongside him. He produced a lot of great wrestlers, Billy being one of them.”
Damiana is Lower Cape May’s all-time wins leader with a 137-18 record. He was a two-time place-winner at the state individual tournament, finishing seventh in 2008 and 2009. He was inducted into the Lower Cape May Regional Hall of Fame in 2014 in a class that included current Chicago Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur.
He wrestled two seasons at NCAA Division I Cleveland State University and was an All-American in Greco-Roman style before transferring to Kean University to play football.
He graduated in 2014 with a degree in history and plans to graduate with a master’s degree in Holocaust and genocide studies from Kean in August. He is a permanent substitute teacher at Lower.
Damiana has been a lifelong wrestling fan. His father, Bill, wrestled at Lower in the 1970s and was an assistant coach under Bill Porter in the ’80s and ’90s. Damiana always loved watching matches at Lower.
And he’s a lifelong professional wrestling fan. He was into martial arts as a kid and got into wrestling in middle school.
As a Lower Cape May junior, Damiana went 42-4 in the 2008-09 season and was a first-team Press All-Star at 215 pounds. He was a second-team All-Star as a senior.
Beside following in his dad’s footsteps as a coach, his dream was to be in the WWE, the top pro wrestling organization in North America.
After Damiana’s successful high school wrestling and collegiate sports careers, he began training at the Monster Factory in Paulsboro.
But while he was trying to become a professional wrestler, he also was helping his younger brother, Cory, in his high school career. Cory, a 2014 Lower Cape May graduate, is a junior on the Hofstra University wrestling team.
“I want to constantly give back to the sport, and what better way to give back than by making a kid believe he did something he couldn’t do?” Damiana said.
Damiana served as an assistant coach at St. Joseph High School in 2015, helping train state runner-up C.J. LaFragola, now a sophomore on the Brown team. He was a Buena Regional assistant coach the past two seasons, helping train heavyweight third-place state winner Antonio Rodriguez in 2016 and 160-pound sixth-place finisher Jake Maxwell this year.
Maxwell was The Press Wrestler of the Year.
“Working with (Buena coach George Maxwell) and Jake was the real turning point for me saying I needed to be a head coach,” Damiana said. “I learned so much from Coach Maxwell and working with those kids at Buena.”
Damiana has held wrestling camps in the summer and worked with college wrestlers, too.
“I’ve been able to deal with a different array of kids, different styles and different athletes,” Damiana said. “Being able to get various looks from different programs is very beneficial.”