Before he became a state champion, there were a few brief moments when Youssif Hemida questioned whether he’d ever step back onto a wrestling mat.
“I remember right at the beginning when the doctor told me I had to wear a neck brace,” Hemida said of the fractured neck he suffered prior to his junior season. “The neck brace doesn’t look good. People kind of think that I had whiplash or some really bad accident. At one point, I was thinking I wasn’t going to wrestle again. It really brought me down at that time of the year and that had a big effect on me.”
With a rare bleed of size, instincts and athleticism, Hemida’s potential had been evident since his days as a pee-wee wrestler. But the troublesome injury limited his mobility and threatened to derail a career that hadn’t yet had a chance to blossom.
Hemida barely made it back in time for sectionals his junior year, but he upset a defending champ as the 13th seed and became the first section champion in Mamaroneck history.
That was just the tip of the iceberg.
Finally healthy, Hemida hit the national tournament circuit in the offseason and made waves, earning an offer from the University of Maryland. And in his senior year for the Tigers, Hemida put together one of the most dominant seasons that Section 1 has seen.
“He was so focused,” said 2009 Mamaroneck graduate Femi Wheeler, who has coached and mentored Hemida since 2006. “Every sprint brought him a step closer, and that’s how he ran them. Every snap down, every Russian (tie), every underhook brought him two points closer to getting his hand raised. That’s how he worked in the room coming back from the fracture.”
Hemida went undefeated as a senior, becoming the first Section 1 wrestler to do that since Somers’ Brian Realbuto and Fox Lane’s Steven Rodrigues in 2011. Now, he’s the first wrestler from Mamaroneck to be named The Journal News Westchester/Putnam wrestler of the year.
“It just all kind of fell in place,” Hemida said. “With all of the stuff that happened in past years, this year I’m just so happy with the way that things worked out.”
At 6-foot-4 with a long reach and unusual quickness for an athlete of his size, Hemida possesses traits that most 220-pounders simply can’t match.
“Youssif’s movement on his feet is the best I’ve seen for his weight class,” said first-year Mamaroneck coach Dave Colagiovanni, who was a four-time section champion with Mahopac. “The goal for each match proceeding the last is to win by more points. We were able to accomplish these goals by staying offensive and not holding onto leads.”
Hemida’s first big test came at the Shoreline Invitational in early January, where he ran into 2014 state finalist Vin Feola of Walt Whitman in the finals. Feola had been considered the favorite for a state title before Hemida defeated him in the offseason, but he picked up a rare takedown against Hemida to force overtime.
Hemida eventually prevailed in the nail-biter, leaving determined that he wouldn’t wrestle another match that close in his high school career.
“What that really put in my head was that, all of the times that I had beaten him really wouldn’t matter at all if I didn’t beat him in the state final,” Hemida said. “Having a match that close kind of made me think, ‘Well, it is possible for him to beat me.’ It’s not like I’m indestructible or unbeatable.”
Hemida went onto win an Eastern States title with a 4-1 decision over Feola and then a state championship with a 5-2 decision against his nemesis in the final. He was never taken down after the Shoreline, proving to be one of the most difficult wrestlers to score on in the state.
Pretty soon, the entire country could be taking notice of the kid who put Mamaroneck’s wrestling program on the map.
“Youssif has the mindset to progress each and every day,” Colagiovanni said. “If he follows this trend into his collegiate career, he will be contending for a national championship.”
Coach of the year — Dennis DiSanto, Mahopac: Since taking over the Mahopac program four years ago, DiSanto had been building for a year like this. The Indians jumped from 15th in the section last season to third overall in Division 1 this year, with two section champs in senior Ryan Delahanty and junior Mike DiNardo. DiNardo went onto take fourth in the state at 182 pounds, capping an incredible year for the soon-to-be National Wrestling Hall of Fame coach.
The rest of the Westchester/Putnam all-stars…
First-team: Justin Lopez, Jr., Yonkers
Second-team: Mikey Bruno, Fr., Putnam Valley
Honorable mention: James Bathon, Jr., Pleasantville; Luca Errico, 8th, Byram Hills; Garrett Semenetz, So., Mahopac
First-team: Kyle Sams, Fr., Putnam Valley
Second-team: Matt Kramer, Fr., John Jay
Honorable mention: Crew Fullerton, Fr., Mamaroneck; Jay Martins, So., Harrison
First-team: Satoshi Abe, So., Putnam Valley
Second-team: Jake Shore, Jr., New Rochelle
Honorable mention: Michael DaBramo, Jr., Scarsdale
First-team: Kyle Aslanian, Jr., Edgemont
Second-team: Frankie Barchella, Sr., Harrison
Honorable mention: Louie Cree, So., John Jay
First-team: Kevin Knox, Jr., Carmel
Second-team: Jordan Wallace, So., New Rochelle
Honorable mention: Jake Logan, 8th, New Rochelle; David Ortiz, Sr., Yonkers
First-team: Matt Grippi, Fr., Fox Lane
Second-team: Tom Schulze, Sr., Stepinac
Honorable mention: Fredy Guevara, Fr., Yonkers; Tom Kozal, Sr., Brewster
First-team: Grant Cuomo, Fr., Brewster
Second-team: Conor Melbourne, So., John Jay
Honorable mention: Chris Cornell, Sr., Mahopac
First-team: Brian Kershner, Sr., John Jay
Second-team: Lou Quintanilla, Jr., Pleasantville
Honorable mention: Nick McGill, Sr., Brewster
First-team: Cliffton Wang, So., Edgemont
Second-team: Alex Leone, Jr., Carmel
Honorable mention: Daniel Baruch, Sr., Scarsdale; Tom Marrone, Sr., Pleasantville; Joe Petrogallo, Sr., Brewster
First-team: Teddy Fleming, Sr., North Salem
Second-team: Ari Fay, Sr., John Jay
Honorable mention: Daniel Kraemer, Sr., Woodlands
First-team: Willie Messinger, Sr., Putnam Valley
Second-team: Nunzio Crowley, Jr., Eastchester
Honorable mention: Evan Frank, So., John Jay; Roger Ransom, Sr., Mamaroneck
First-team: Mike DiNardo, Jr., Mahopac
Second-team: Alex Melikian, Jr., Kennedy
Honorable mention: Peter Jones, Sr., Irvington
First-team: Liridon Hasanramaj, Sr., Mahopac
Second-team: Jon Clune, Jr., Fox Lane
Honorable mention: Halil Gecaj, Fr., John Jay; Dan Mendoza, Sr., New Rochelle
First-team: Youssif Hemida, Sr., Mamaroneck
Second-team: Brock Cvijanovich, Sr., Horace Greeley
Honorable mention: Constantine George, So., Putnam Valley
First-team: Ryan Delahanty, Sr., Mahopac
Second-team: Stephen Kelley, Sr., Lakeland/Panas
Honorable mention: Mike Larm, Jr., Brewster