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State wrestling title, but no bragging rights

Published: Monday, December 10, 2012 at 8:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 10, 2012 at 8:16 p.m.

You pick, Andres. You just won the state wrestling championship in your weight class. You get to choose. Where do you want to eat? That’s what the SRJC wrestling coaches asked Andres Torres Saturday night. Granted, it was late at night and the SRJC team was traveling through the San Joaquin Valley, somewhere between Some and Where. They guessed they were in Patterson. It wasn’t Restaurant Row. It was Carl’s Jr.

Torres’ answer revealed everything about himself and his sport.

The Windsor resident turned to face his teammates and said, “Where do you guys want to eat?”

There you have it - junk food by committee.

Here’s also what you have: A wrestler who had every reason to let his ego be in charge, who was even asked to be in charge, and he couldn’t. He couldn’t because that’s not what wrestlers do. On the mat, the man across from them is everything. And everything encompasses a lot.

“It’s physical and it’s violent,” said SRJC wrestling coach Jake Fitzpatrick.

Heck, 20 minutes before his final match Saturday night, Torres got a bloody nose — in warm-ups.

But outside the mat, a wrestler is unfailingly polite. Maybe it’s because the wrestler expends so much energy and aggression on the mat, he doesn’t have any testosterone left. Maybe since wrestlers don’t make ESPN highlight films, they aren’t prima donnas. Maybe it’s the sport’s culture. Whatever the reason, rugby is the only other sport that displays such contradictory behavior — vicious in battle, good-natured away from it.

In the course of a 60-minute interview with Torres on Monday, I had to remind myself that the man sitting across from me was a California state wrestling champion (125-pound weight class). Given many opportunities to congratulate himself on winning a gold medal, Torres passed on all of them. Once, however, he came close, though one could make the case that even then Torres didn’t try very hard.

“Coach (Fitzpatrick) said he would buy me a ring if I won state,” Torres said.

Torres paused for a moment to consider a ring to be an incredible, maybe even ostentatious, gift.

“But I don’t know if he will,” Torres said, “so put it in the paper and now he’ll have to get me one.”

Torres gave himself a good laugh on that one. He knew that any time you have to negotiate through a newspaper, you have depleted all other means of reasonable persuasion.

“He said that?” Fitzpatrick said with a grin. “Well, I’m going to get Andres a ring all right, and he’s going to help design it.”

Fitzpatrick, however, is preparing himself for Torres to continue to act like a selfless wrestler even when he receives the ring. Kyle Griffin, SRJC’s last state wrestling champion before Torres, won the 174-pound weight class in 2006 and received a ring for his efforts, as well.

“Kyle then asked me to keep it and give it to him later,” Fitzpatrick said.

How much later? Griffin didn’t specify. Maybe when he became a grandpa. Who knows? Wrestlers don’t spend a lot of time calling attention to themselves, and a ring on the finger would certainly do that. But because he stands just 5-foot-3 and competes in the 125-pound weight class (he’s at 137 right now), Torres attracts attention.

“I’m often tested,” Torres said.

He means away from the mat. Hey, little guy, so you’re a wrestler? A champion? Really? Wanna try me? Torres backs off initially. Torres never, ever solicits competition outside of the mat. In fact, if approached by someone who has consumed an adult beverage of two, Torres will say, “You’re too big for me. You would hurt me.” And he'll walk away. He’s not a King of the Mountain kind of guy.

But he is 5-foot-3 and that height is just impossible for some to resist. If he judges the interaction safe and his solicitor able to handle a takedown without rancor, he'll go along with it and he’s taken down guys who have weighed up to 280 pounds.

“It’s not about strength,” Torres said. “It’s about technique, knowledge.”

A three-time SCL champion at Windsor High, Torres found the sport to be the perfect marriage of brain and brawn. Or, as he puts it, “A chess match with hand-to-hand combat.” He’s carrying a 3.91 GPA. He’ll receive an academic-athletic honor today from SRJC, one of just few given every year at the school.

“In my semifinal match Saturday,” Torres said, “my opponent got out to a 7-1 lead in the first period.”

That’s almost like taking a 7-1 lead in soccer.

“But I could feel him getting tired in the second period,” Torres said. “That’s when I knew I would win. All I had to do was keep to my game plan.”

Torres won. Four hours later, he would face Edwards Estevez of Palomar in the finals. Twenty minutes before that match, just he did 20 minutes before his semifinal, Torres warmed up with teammate Aaron Penkruger. The warm-up is unlike a warm-up in any other sport. It’s a warm-up to get Torres’ body sweaty and limber. That can only happen with full contact. It’s not like Torres was arm-wrestling Penkruger.

That’s when Penkruger, 22 pounds heavier, gave Torres a bloody nose. Then came the match against Estevez. In the middle of the second period, Torres suffered a dime-size laceration on the top of his head. Estevez’s teeth had come in contact with his Torres’ scalp. Two attempts at bandaging the wound failed. Superglue worked. His bloody nose returned. Cotton was inserted.

Torres’ attitude through all this? He was irritated. He just wanted to wrestle.

“He was a gladiator about the whole thing,” Fitzpatrick said.

The gladiator won, becoming the fifth state champion coached by Fitzpatrick. And Torres knew exactly how he wanted to celebrate.

“It was time to eat,” he said.

Which explains how he gained 12 pounds in two days.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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