On a college freshman, a three-piece suit and fedora stand out.
It’s a unique fashion, a throwback to the 1920s Frank Sinatra era and a look that’s not exactly common amongst 19-year-olds.
But for Devon Lotito, a freshman on the Cal Poly wrestling team, it’s the everyday wardrobe of choice.
The 133-pounder has also been known to don Batman pajamas every night for bed.
Including the cape.
“I saw him and thought, ‘Wow, you’ve got to have some guts to walk around like that,’” senior wrestler Atticus Disney said. “That’s who he is and it’s something you learn to love about the kid. It’s something that sets him apart.”
And aside from his style, Lotito’s performance on the wrestling mat has set him apart.
With a 23-7 record, Lotito leads the Mustangs in victories this season, took third place at the Las Vegas Invitational on Dec. 1, and is currently ranked 22nd in the nation, the fifth highest amongst freshmen as of Jan. 27.
“He’s one of the best guys in the country,” head coach Brendan Buckley said. “He’s solid in every position. He wrestles a high pace. He’s confident. He’s easy to coach. He doesn’t get too up or down. He just wrestles hard.”
But even after placing in the top 10 for the past three years at the Pennsylvania AAA high school state championships, Lotito came to Cal Poly this year with a clean slate and a slight lack of self-belief.
“In the beginning of the year I thought, ‘It’s college, there’s no way I’m going to be able to compete right off the bat,’” Lotito said. “When I came here I tried to think about it as starting in a new environment, I was doing all right.”
Lotito got off to an even 1-1 start in duals and lost by major decision in the first round of the Roadrunner Open, the team’s first tournament, on Nov. 10.
But Lotito soon found his groove, thanks to the Mustangs’ participation in the Keystone Classic on Nov. 18, conveniently located in Lotito’s home state of Pennsylvania.
“Something just clicked,” Lotito said. “Something felt natural, like being back in high school. It was nice having my family there. My high school coach came out. (I was) just wrestling, not paying attention to who I’m wrestling or what I’m up against. I really just got back to the basics.”
This mentality helped Lotito go 5-0 and win the entire Keystone Classic at his weight class, boosting his record to 10-3 and propelling him to a 13-4 record during the next two months.
“He doesn’t wrestle timid,” Buckley said. “He’s suffered some losses this year but rarely is it a result of him not going out and trying to win. For the most part, he’s going out, wrestling aggressive and trying to put points on the board and that’s what we ask for.”
Even with Lotito’s dominance in the 133-pound class, the rest of the Mustangs haven’t been so lucky this season.
Only two other non-redshirted wrestlers have winning records, with Sean Dougherty posting a solid 18-9 in the 184-pound weight class and Kyle Chene edging out a 14-10 record at 157 pounds.
“Guys that are not performing as well as they’d like to be out on that mat are just having confidence issues,” Lotito said. “I think that everybody on the team, the youngest and the oldest, we all are working at the same level. In the room you can see all of them are working just as hard and just as well as I am. The only thing that’s different is the translation out on the mat.”
With a 2-7 record in dual meets, the Mustangs have struggled with more than just confidence, as injury has hit the team where it hurts the most.
“We’ve sort of suffered as a result of injury,” Buckley said. “That hurt us. We have one senior, two juniors, a few sophomores and it’s all freshmen. We are just a young team.”
With Disney suffering a career-ending anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear at the Las Vegas Invitational, reigning Pac-12 champion Dominic Kastl battling a lower back injury all season, and most recently, Damien Arredondo breaking his ankle, the Mustangs are short on seasoned veterans and have a surplus of fresh youngsters.
Buckley is only in his second year as the Mustangs’ head coach, after coming to Cal Poly from Columbia University in 2011, and the Mustangs’ 15 true freshmen are all from Buckley’s first recruiting class.
“This is the program they are able to make a mark on and create along with the new coaches,” Buckley said. “The downside is there is going to be some lumps. The key to success when you’re young is bouncing back, having a short-term memory and just trying to focus on getting better each week. We are still in a transitional phase.”
Lotito and freshman 149-pounder Blake Kastl, who has an 11-3 record in tournaments, including a first place finish at the SF State Open, embody the strong recruiting skills that Buckley possesses.
“To have someone who’s had that kind of success as a true freshman, that’s a little bit about what Buckley can do in the future as far as recruiting classes,” Disney said. “When you are talking to prospective athletes just to say, ‘Look, I brought this guy in as a true freshman, look what he’s accomplished. I know how to pick them, I know how to breed them.’”
And though the Mustangs have struggled this season, Buckley believes his freshmen are a sign of good things to come for the Cal Poly wrestling program and sees a bright future for Lotito.
“He can be a four-time All-American,” Buckley said. “We’ve got some things to work on, but they are all easy things. He’s going to win matches at the NCAA Tournament and he can definitely get on the podium. That’s our goal for him this year.”
For now, the Mustangs will finish off what’s been a rollercoaster season of ups and downs with one tournament, three more conference duals and one final home meet against Central Michigan before the Pac-12 Championship on March 2.
The weight of losing both the oldest player and the defending conference champion has been placed on the shoulder of a group of rookies.
Still, Buckley has plenty of faith in the 19-year-old kid who rocks a three-piece suit on the bus ride home from every dual and batman pajamas to bed every night.
“He’s a sign of the times,” Buckley said. “He does real well in school, doesn’t get into trouble, doesn’t party. That’s the kind of team we are creating here and those are the kind of recruits we are looking for. This is the wave of what’s to come and he’s a great example of that.”