“I was a soccer guy for years,” said Veiga-Diaz, the Mustang’s senior wrestling team captain, “but eventually my size began to work against me.”
Veiga-Diaz is in the 189-pound weight class now, but in the off-season weighs in between 200 – 210 pounds.
“I’m not really very fast and forward was my position, so as I got older and bigger it became obvious I was probably not going to be able to remain a forward forever,” he said.
Still, Veiga-Diaz continued to play soccer and was active on the Mason Junior Varsity during his freshman year.
In fact, Veiga-Diaz began his sophomore year with his sights set on a varsity spot and was a regular attendee at the pick-up games the varsity soccer players organized in one half of the Mason Auxiliary Gym during the off-season winter months.
Veiga-Diaz was in the Auxilary Gym so often he began to notice the Mason wrestling team which practiced every day in the other half of the gym, he said.
As a result, Veiga-diaz began to spend time talking to some wrestlers and the coaches while he waited for the pick-up games to begin.
“I knew some of the guys on the wrestling team, but I hadn’t really considered doing it until I began to watch it during the winter of my sophomore year,” Veiga-Diaz explained.
“The more I watched, the more interesting it looked. Honestly, at first I was thinking that maybe it would be a good way to improve my soccer skills. You know, get me to the next level and help me earn a varsity spot,” Veiga-Diaz said.
“Eventually I asked if I could try it out, and as soon as I got on the mat I knew I was going to be a wrestler,” he added. “Soccer was history and I guess I have never looked back.”
“It was a coaches dream come true!” according to former head wrestling coach John Pitas, who had coached Veiga-Diaz when the Mustang joined the ranks of the wrestling team his sophomore year.
“We all wish for an athletic big guy to materialize and anchor our upper weights and there he was,” said Pitas. “Plus, he was self-motivated, and he still is. We never have to push Manuel. He is so dedicated, and his enthusiasm has rubbed off on a lot of the other guys, too.”
Pitas said that Veiga-Diaz “is a true leader and everything you could ask for in a captain.”
Despite joining the team in mid-January of his sophomore year, Veiga-Diaz was able to participate in several matches.
Success, however, remained elusive for the novice wrestler and victories were hard to come by. “I got beat up pretty bad that first year,” Veiga-Diaz said, “but it only made me more determined.”
“I knew I needed to fast track my learning so I began to go to off season tournaments and clinics, to get serious about weight lifting, conditioning and nutrition, things like that,” he continued. “Anything that made me better I started to do it.”
By his junior year, Veiga-Diaz had enough skill to feel more comfortable on the mat and victories began to come his way. The end result was a third-place finish in the Region B tournament and a trip to the Virginia state tournament where he went 1-2.
“That was nice,” Veiga-Diaz said of his being a state qualifier, “but that isn’t enough. This year my goal is to win it all, nothing less. I know that is a tough task, but I am dreaming big.”
So far, his senior year is off to a good start as he sports a 6-1 record going into this week’s Battle at the Bridge tournament held at Woodbridge High School.
“I’m pretty happy so far, but the season has a long way to go so I’m not going to get ahead of myself and get over confident,” he said. “I’m going to concentrate on my goal and keep working. We’ll see how it plays out in [the state tournaments at] Salem.”
During the fall sports season, the consummate sportsman takes on football as a linebacker for the Mustangs.
Veiga-Diaz and his Mason wrestling teammates were back in action this week at the Battle of the Bridge tournament on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Mustangs will be hosting a home match on Saturday, Jan. 9 at 10 a.m. in the George Mason High School Pit.