Owen J. Roberts wrestling coach Steve DeRafelo describes his star athlete as a wrestling innovator.

Derek Gulotta, the first in school history to receive three state medals, has often surprised DeRafelo during the last few years on the mat.

"Kids like him only come along once in a long while," DeRafelo said. "He finds more ways to win than any kid I've ever seen. He'll almost sometimes invent moves, things I've never seen that you can't really coach. In that instant, he decides to do it. And it works."

Gulotta, who posted a career-high .837 winning percentage (36-7) during his junior year last season, is expected to lead a Wildcats squad this winter as one of Southeastern Pennsylvania's top wrestlers in the 113-pound class.

As a freshman, Gulotta placed eighth at states. As a sophomore, he won a district title. As a junior, he defended that title, won regionals, and improved to fourth at states.

But he'd still like to do better - especially at the state tournament.

"I'm trying to get to the top of the podium," Gulotta said. "I really want to win it this year. That's what I'm working for."

Gulotta began wrestling when he was around 4 years old and was encouraged by his father to pursue it throughout his career.

He doesn't lose often. But when Gulotta is defeated, as he was during the season opener on Dec. 6, he said he uses it as a source of motivation.

"It doesn't matter who the kid is, you have to take every match seriously," the senior said. "I'm looking to take it to another level now."

During a practice earlier this week, the Wildcats were working on a skill, and the staff instructed the team to move onto a different one. Gulotta felt like he needed more work, however, because after last weekend's opener, he had talked to his father about working on a particular shot.

So he approached one of the assistant coaches, and said he was going to give the drill another go. DeRafelo said the moment exemplified Gulotta's character.

"This year, he is trying to develop a new technique, and he's not where he feels like he needs to be," he said. "He approached us and said, 'I need to do this again.' That's unusual for a high school kid to recognize that and come tell us that he wants to do that. He has the maturity to do that."

"He recognizes his weaknesses and he's willing to work on them," DeRafelo added.

Gulotta signed a national letter of intent for Lock Haven earlier this month.

Gulotta said he'll "miss every single bit" of wrestling at Owen J. Roberts. His coaches and many of his fellow student-athletes have been working alongside him for several years and together they've shared several memorable moments.

One memory in particular, sticks out.

Two years ago, at the regional tournament, Gulotta was wrestling for third place. The winner would secure the final berth in the state tournament.

The match went to overtime. With just seconds left, Gulotta made a move.

"He got into this weird scramble," DeRafelo said. "He moved his body in a position to score. . . . It was a lot of fun to watch."

The officials stopped to talk. Gulotta stood and waited. Then, the referee lifted two fingers. Gulotta was headed to states.

"I went crazy," Gulotta said. "I like to think of it as, 'You go all in or you don't go.' That right there, I was going to get it or I wasn't. So I went all for it.

"I'd rather go in trying something than not trying anything at all."