A 2016 Olympic hopeful
Darrius Little helped put Thomasville High School on the wrestling map. He now hopes to put the Chair City on his sport’s biggest stage.
Little, a 2007 THS graduate who ended his Bulldog wrestling career as a state champion, is setting his sights on Rio De Janeiro and the 2016 summer Olympics. Little’s journey toward a possible spot on the United States Olympic wrestling team begins this weekend in Las Vegas.
“I always wanted to make the Olympic team,” Little said. “I don’t know too many people from Thomasville who made the Olympic team in any sport. I would love to represent my hometown.”
Little, 23, is competing in the U.S. Open Wrestling Championships where a top-five finish in the 132-pound (60 kg) weight class qualifies him for the U.S. World Team Trials in June and puts him a a step closer to a magical summer of a lifetime in Brazil. The three-day competition begins Thursday.
“It’s a long and rigorous process but it’s well worth it,” said Little, who admits to be a nervous wreck right before his matches. “If you make it, you earn it.”
Growing up in a town dominated by basketball and football, Little decided to walk a lesser traveled path. Wrestling’s history at THS paled in comparison to other more popular sports, but Little entered the program determined to create a winning culture. By the time his high school career ended, Little had established himself as one of the premier wrestlers in the state.
“It would mean the world to me,” Little said of possibly wrestling in the Olympics. “It would show people that not everything in Thomasville revolves around football and basketball, and you can create your own path and build your own success for others to follow in other sports that may not get as much publicity. You can always be something different.
“Coach [Richard] Herman has done a great job of building the program to where it needs to be. To be a part of it was great.”
His accomplishments on the mat, including state championships and NCHSA All America status in 2006 and 2007, attracted the attention of North Carolina State University. As a member of the Wolfpack wrestling team, Little proved that his high school achievements were just the beginning. Over the next four years, Little qualified for the national tournament three times, culminating with him being named to the NCAA All-American team in 2012. Little ended his college career as runner-up for the N.C. State Athlete of the Year award.
“He’s a great role model,” said THS Principal Deboy Beamon. “He excelled in academic and athletics, and managed to put the whole package together. He’s the kind of guy you want representing your school.”
Little’s road to the Olympics will not be easy. He competes in, perhaps, the toughest weight class in wrestling. The best wrestlers in the country will be in Nevada this weekend, and Little, who currently is training in Tempe, Ariz., with the Arizona State University wrestling team, knows the top-five finish he covets is no guarantee.
“I’m in one of the most stacked weight classes in the country right now,” Little said. “We have a returning bronze medalist from the 2012 Olympics and a two-time national champion. On any given day, anybody can win the tournament. There‘s not really one dominant guy.”
This weekend’s event has added significance for Little. If he places in the top-three, he will receive a monthly stipend from U.S.A. wrestling to help pay for his training, which now is a full-time job for the 23-year-old.
“I can work whenever, but I’m only going to be young enough to do this once,” said Little. “Why not take this opportunity and make a run for it.”
Little will come back to the place where it all began next month. He will speak to THS students on May 18. He hopes his story inspires others to always chase their dream.
“I’m honored to be in this position,” Little said. “It’s something you should never take lightly.”
Little’s willingness to forge his own path has helped create an avenue for future generations of Chair City athletes who may not want to play traditional sports to follow. In three years that path may stretch from Thomasville to the Olympic stage.
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or firstname.lastname@example.org.