February 7, 2012

Dowling's DeMola Using Jiu-Jitsu Advantage

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Dowling's Vito DeMola doesn't have the size to intimidate the opposition, but his ability to use his second degree black belt in Japanese jiu-jitsu to gain leverage sets him apart. "He can get shots off being at a very awkward position, more so than any other kid just because that discipline that he studies really helps him," Lions head coach Tim Boyle said. "He has a better sense of balance than a normal athlete has."
© Paul North

The frustration is visible on the defender's face. The humongous close pole has this diminutive attackman right where he wants him; he's leaning on the little guy and about to clear him out as he tries to roll the cage. And then the ball is in the net.

Game after game, the scene replays itself.

The little guy is Vito DeMola, the top gun on Dowling, and the pole is any number of close defenders in the East Coast Conference who try to muscle DeMola off his spot. It's pretty easy to fall into the trap of attempting to manhandle DeMola, who is listed generously at 5-foot-9, but typically the long poles don't realize they are being set up.

As a second-degree black belt in Japanese jiu-jitsu, DeMola is at his best with someone leaning on him.

"Especially being an attackman in a dodging scenario, I feel like I understand my body motion in relation to other people's body motion with the martial arts background," DeMola said. "You use your momentum or shift someone else's momentum to help you get leverage to the front of the cage. I'm smaller than most defensemen that cover me, so thinking about how to take the angle or how he is coming at me definitely helps me with my size against their size."

Dowling head coach Tim Boyle is always amazed at what DeMola can accomplish, even when the size odds are stacked against him.

"He's always able to get better leverage and he's always able to keep his balance when he's turning the corner," Boyle said. "He can get shots off being at a very awkward position, more so than any other kid just because that discipline that he studies really helps him. He has a better sense of balance than a normal athlete has. He's able to do things with strength and agility even when he's off balance."

DeMola describes Japanese jiu-jitsu as a technique used in "practical street combat, or how you would defend yourself in a normal street situation." It's not used in cage fighting, and has its roots with the Samurai in feudal Japan. It's also something that DeMola has been practicing since he was six years old.

At that age, he starting picking up the finer points of martial arts with his dad in the house, and eventually his eponymous father decided to open his own dojo near his hometown. DeMola continued his training for a decade, at which point he started to instruct others in Japanese jiu-jitsu.

"I was about 15 years old when I started teaching our pee-wee class, which is for our three- to four-year-olds," DeMola said. "I started there, and then I worked up to five- and six-year-olds. I still train, just not when I'm in season. I teach all year long."

The closeness to his parents, who he calls his role models, and his two siblings during his childhood in Holtsville, N.Y., perhaps triggered a youthful angst when he started looking at colleges. After narrowing his choices to Dowling – located 15 minutes from his home – or Hartwick in Oneonta, N.Y., he opted to head Upstate.

"I kind of wanted to get off of Long Island and do the whole 'I don't need my parents, I want to do my own thing,' admitted DeMola.

He put together an outstanding freshman season with the Division III Hawks, finishing with the highest goals per game average in the Empire 8 and earning both the E8 Rookie of the Year and second team all-conference.

When DeMola initially picked Hartwick over Dowling, Boyle wished him well and bided his time.

"When I deal with Long Island kids, and I deal with so many of them, I totally understand that they want to get away because I didn't go to school on Long Island," Boyle said. "I can empathize with where they are coming from. I said 'Vito, good luck. If anything changes, give me a call.'

"He went up there and did very well lacrosse-wise and he felt like he got it out of his system. Vito is very much a family kid, and he likes to hang around his family and they have family dinner together often. He works with his father at the dojo. While it's great to be away, there is a part of him that really wants to be around his family. When he contacted us, it was a no-brainer to bring him in. We know him and he know what we were all about."

After redshirting his first year, DeMola operated in the midfield during 2010 because the Lions had a stacked attack unit that would eventually propel them to the NCAA Division II tournament. Last spring, DeMola moved back to his natural position on attack, and resumed his knack for confounding defenders, leading the team in goals (46) and points (55). He enters the '12 season as one of the top attackmen in the vaunted East Coast Conference.

In addition to teaching Japanese jiu-jitsu at his father's dojo, DeMola has also tried his hand at coaching lacrosse. His prized pupil in both disciplines is his 10-year-old brother, Michael.

Part of Michael's martial arts training is to join Vito in giving demonstrations to local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, along with exercise exhibitions to elementary schools. On the weekend's, Vito joins Dowling assistant Mike Taylor in coaching Michael's lacrosse travel team. Vito sees tons of potential for his brother in both sports because Michael has the same advantages he has.

"He's a lefty attackman and he's shorter than everyone else on the field, just like me," Vito said.

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