For the love of God: A wrestling story of exuberance, not exasperation

Feb. 2—LOUISVILLE — Monarch High School junior Wyatt Carlucci had to sit out of wrestling practice this past Thursday while still recovering from an illness. It's a week before regionals, a tournament he'll have to place top four in his weight class to qualify for the state championships at Ball Arena in two weeks.

He's reminded of ... well, soccer.

Wyatt recalls a church trip to Uganda from a few years back. The son of a pastor brings up the local youth from the poor, rural town they went to serve, and mostly, the joy they exuded.

For hours a day, Wyatt, and kids with so little, some orphaned, would play soccer during their recess. Soccer, of course, being the preferred pastime there, and not wrestling, which he found out that most around town believed involved armbars and flying kicks, like those seen on WWE.

"It's kind of cool that they do it because of their joy for the sport, and like that's the only reason they do it. They're just passionate about it," Wyatt says before continuing, with what was in part a reminder to himself. "A lot of times, especially towards the later part of the season with wrestling, it's really mentally tough and I struggle with motivation. But it's like an escape for them. Like, we should be similar and have similar intentions in sports. Have joy."

His father Brian was at practice Thursday, too. He's an assistant coach for the wrestling team, which also currently includes another of his four sons: Levi, a freshman.

The 43-year-old is wearing a Monarch ballcap and pullover. Usually he is a bit formal, at least on Sundays, when he preaches to more than 1,000 parishioners as the head pastor of Cornerstone Boulder.

Brian loves Jesus, but is sure to keep it out of the school. He loves talking about his sons anywhere. All of them wrestle and played football, just as he did at Monte Vista High School in the 90s.

His oldest, Cole, followed closely in his footsteps, winning a wrestling state title with the Coyotes in 2022 before going on to wrestle at Iowa State. Brian had won it all twice in high school before going on to wrestle at the University of Northern Colorado. His youngest, Jude, is in middle school.

Similar to Wyatt's fond memories of Uganda — where Cornerstone Boulder helped start and fund a school for kids who previously had nowhere to go — Brian and his wife Elyse want all their sons to be passionate and find joy in all they choose to do.

They push them to remember what really matters in life — which for Carluccis, is led by a Christian faith grounded in love for others. Often in patron work.

Outside of sports and high school studies, Wyatt and Levi each do a lot for their communities. In part, both work with mentally-disabled children, Brian says. Recently, Wyatt was asked to go over to the middle school to help find resolution between a few kids who just can't seem to get along.

"Our faith helps our life more than our life helps our faith," Brian says. "Our faith helps wrestling more than wrestling helps our faith. For me, I lose perspective all the time. As a dad and coaching, I get wrapped up in wins and losses too much. And I need the perspective our faith gives us of the things that are most important in life to correct me, and kind of return me to a better center."

Perspective is what Brian, both the pastor and wrestling coach, drives into two of the communities closest to his heart. Effortlessly, he talks about one as if he's found a parallel to the other. Because at the core, he says, it's about people — their pain, struggle, perseverance and the need to love others. God's grace when fallen short.

Like they say, maybe we're not all so different after all. Or perhaps Brian is just a gifted speaker.

Brian's church — a place he's been at for the last 21 years, and the lead pastor the past seven — is in the middle of a nice neighborhood, surrounded by trees and a backdrop of mountains. It could just as well be an old wrestling mat, where many have come to bare both success and failure.

"At Cornerstone, and hopefully churches everywhere, I hope it's a place that helps build resilience in people, and helps ground them in something. Even though the circumstances of life may be chaotic and out of their control, they can still kind of press ahead and, you know, still understand who they are as a person, stay connected to other people, and find joy," Brian says. "I mean, that's really what we're trying to find. And so, when that kind of thing shows up in wrestling, whether it's in a small way and you lose one match that you didn't want to — well, all right, I can recover from that disappointment."

He points to his oldest son, Cole.

After tearing his ACL in the middle of the fall football season, Cole overcame initial disappointment, believing he would miss his final wrestling season in the winter, and a chance at winning state — something he'd dreamt of as a kid looking through his dad's past awards.

When the opportunity to wrestle was finally presented, the swelling in his knee down just enough to limit further damage, Cole tore through the state's competition on a bum leg en route to Class 5A gold.

Thinking back to it, Brian says Cole would have been fine even if he'd not been able to wrestle then, crediting the support from his school, sports and church friends. This was just a better ending.

"No one in the tunnel (at Ball Arena) had smiles on their faces because they're all nervous, ready to win. It's fighting time. But Cole had a smile on his face," Brian says. "I think he kept the whole season in mind, like, this was a gift."

Meanwhile, in the shadows of their brother and dad's titles, Wyatt and Levi say they don't feel any burden from their family to measure up in accolades. But even perceived expectations can be heavy.

"Like sometimes it's like, OK, you can stop talking about Cole," Wyatt laughs. "But at the end, he's inspiring to me and I look up to him and the things he's accomplished. Overcoming his injury, it is something that drives me more than holds me back."

Added Levi, "Going into every match, my dad tells me that you should be nervous. You should be excited. It's good to have that standard. Like, I know I can be this good and I know I can reach my potential."

The junior, at 150 pounds, and freshman, at 120s, will look to punch their ticket to their first state tournament at the regional at Ponderosa High School, starting Friday. The state tournament follows, Feb. 15-17.

How it all unfolds is anybody's guess.

In a time crazed parents make headlines for yelling at officials over amateur sports, where mental health has become a more recognized issue since the pandemic, especially for kids, the Carluccis are just trying to see the bigger picture.

"You do everything with all your heart because you're honoring God through that," Wyatt says. "God is super passionate about the things you're passionate about. He's with me in this."