Randall Raiders wrestler Johnathon Ortegon is trying to end an already impressive wrestling career in historic fashion.
The No. 1-ranked senior, who is 44-4 this season, can stamp his name in the University Interscholastic League record books starting Friday and continuing through Saturday at the Berry Center in Cypress during the UIL Class 5A state tournament. With possibly four matches left in an illustrious career, Randall’s 126-pound wrestler will attempt to win all of them and become the first ever competitor in 5A to win four state titles.
He is also trying to join elite company. Since wrestling became a UIL sport in 1998-1999, only Tascosa Rebel legend Nick Herrmann (2009-2012), who wrestled at Division I Virginia, has won four straight gold medals.
The only other high school boy wrestler to win four straight championships is Caprock’s Martin Apadaca during the 1990′s when it wasn’t UIL sanctioned, but was sanctioned by the Texas Interscholastic Wrestling Association.
Despite the pressure, as he has done throughout his time donning the silver and black, Ortegon has remained focused.
“There is definitely a lot of pressure of knowing that there’s going to always be someone working toward beating me,” Ortegon said. “But the way I think about it, with the schedule we have throughout the year, we have wrestled some of the best in the country. I think I’ve learned from all those big tournaments, and then we come back here to face this district. I have a lot of confidence in myself knowing I can beat some of the top guys in the country.
“That keeps me motivated, knowing I can do that, and I put a lot of pressure on myself. That’s how I handle it. I’ve been to big places and seen the best wrestling around, so I have confidence in my ability based on that.”
Raiders coach David Quirino agreed, and added that Ortegon – despite his success – doesn’t take himself too seriously.
“He is unique,” Quirino said. “He’s a comedian. He’s the kind that others gravitate towards. He is a uniter, not a divider. He includes everyone in his circle that wants to be there.
“When you’re 5-foot-5, you can either have little-man syndrome or be a comedian. He definitely picked the comedian side.”
Quirino added that Ortegon lives and breathes wrestling.
“He studies on his own,” Quirino said. “A lot of kids are playing X-Box and doing other things (in their downtime), but he is watching film and is a student of the game.”
He will be making the trip to state along with nine Randall teammates.
Ortegon has earned the nickname “Speedy” throughout his time on the mat. He earned that moniker back when he was wrestling as a young buck at the Wesley Community Center.
“We were jogging around before practice,” Ortegon said. “Whenever we’d jog, I’d be sprinting around in the circle, when we were supposed to be jogging. One day, our coach just said, ‘OK – your nickname is Speedy.’
“That nickname has stuck with me till now, in high school, my senior year.”
“He was 7 years old at the wrestling club,” Quirino said. “He was a shifty, quick, fast little guy – and it just stuck. I just remember him being that little, quick guy that was very misdirectional. He was firing off constantly and delivering shots, and he just fools opponents with where he’s going to be – now you see me, now you don’t – and then he’s on you.”
The new District 3-5A schedule, along with the competition he has faced the previous three years, has made Ortegon battle-hardened. But he has learned, over those many years as a grappler, that the sport is cerebral.
“Wrestling is definitely a mind game,” Ortegon said. “Aside from the physical part, really, it’s all a mindset.”
Going into the state tournament, Ortegon is naturally nervous. But that nervousness ends the second he makes contact with his opponent.
“I’m nervous before every match, despite who I’m facing,” Ortegon said. “It doesn’t matter who they are or where they’re from, there’s always nerves there. But what I’ve learned, throughout the years, is there’s going to be nervousness and anxiety – but you have to level it out.
“I can’t allow myself to get too high or too low. It all goes back to having a strong mentality – knowing what I’m able to do.”