Like all brothers, Zach and Isaiah Jimenez fight from time to time. But unlike most, they battle it out on a wrestling mat.
Zach, a senior at SF State, has wrestled alongside his brother his entire career. But this year has been different. Isaiah didn’t wrestle with Zach — he coached him.
Isaiah was an All-American and three-time national qualifier during his Gator wrestling days, and he has just finished his first season as a volunteer assistant coach at SF State. Zach is now a two-time national qualifier, and although not an All-American, he came close at nationals this year.
“When I was younger, (Isaiah) was my role model, he kept me on the right path,” Zach said. “He’s my best friend and it’s nice having someone like that be able to wrestle with.”
Zach said it has not been much of a transition having his brother as a coach now, because even when they wrestled side by side for SF State, they were always each other’s coaches.
A passion for wrestling has been passed down for generations in the Jimenez family, beginning with their grandfather, and continuing on with their uncles and father.
Their father, Simon Jimenez, has been a high school wrestling coach for 30 years, and he took his boys to practice as soon as they were old enough. And 18 years later, the brothers have yet to falter from the sport.
“My whole family wrestled, so it was just a matter of time before we wrestled,” Isaiah said. When his dad would bring them as young boys to the high school where he coached, “we were just the little guys getting in the way trying to practice with the big guys.”
“My dad has coached us before we were born pretty much,” Isaiah said. “He coached us the whole way, even in college, yelling from the stands.”
Isaiah was recruited to SF State when head coach Lars Jensen offered him a scholarship, and to the brothers, this meant that Zach would be going there too when his time came the following year to leave for college.
“It was a package deal. Wherever I signed, they were getting Zach too,” Isaiah said. “Where I chose to go, he was going too.”
Isaiah redshirted his freshman season as he awaited his brother’s arrival to the team the following year.
Zach said he wanted to wrestle where his brother was wrestling, and nothing was going to stop him.
“We are inseparable, we literally do everything together. It would have been hard wrestling without Zach to be honest, even living without him,” Isaiah said. The brothers have shared a room their entire lives, including the last four years at SF State.
“It has been a real positive experience having both as wrestlers and now one as assistant coach,” Jensen said. “It is almost like they’re twins.”
Jensen said he is a twin himself, so he understands what it is like sharing everything with a sibling, and like Isaiah, he is an older brother as well. There is sibling rivalry of course, he added.
“The two brothers go at it and get overzealous at times,” Jensen said. “But they feed off each other. Every day is a battle against the two of them, but that’s the way it is when you are an older brother. We push them to their best.”
Jensen observed how remarkably supportive their family has been over the years.
“They are the most dedicated family I’ve had in 31 years of coaching,” Jensen said. “Their parents have never missed a competition in five years.”
No matter what state the boys competed in across the U.S. over the years, all they had to do was look up in the stands, and they will always find their parents amongst the crowd.
“We’ve watched every single dual anywhere in the U.S., we’ve never missed one,” their mother, Anna Jimenez, said.
Isaiah said his parents make fun of him when they play back footage from competitions. In every video, Isaiah can always be spotted in the corner during each of Zach’s matches, propped in a chair, mirroring Zach’s moves and swaying his body as if he were dueling his brother’s opponent instead.
“He is my biggest motivator, my biggest fan,” Isaiah said. “But it is so stressful being his coach, it is fun but hard — a rollercoaster.”
Next year, their parents will have to adjust to a very strange offseason, without wrestling, as the boys go their own ways.
“It’s going to be weird to finally be separated, and now the Jimenez family isn’t going to have any wrestlers,” Isaiah said.
But Isaiah isn’t done with wrestling quite yet. He is finishing his graduate assistant job with experience as a coach under his belt, ending his Master program. He plans to continue coaching, wherever he ends up. He is keeping his options open as he looks around at different colleges out of state, as far as South Dakota.
But Zach, who concludes his wrestling career at SF State, said he looks ahead to a future without wrestling competitions.
“I’m going back home to try and be a firefighter, and probably try and help (my dad) out at the high school,” he said. “It is kind of bittersweet…I am definitely going to miss competing and traveling with the team.”
Their mother, Anna Jimenez, reflects on the last few years and how sad she is to see the siblings’ time together come to an end.
“They take care of each other at SF State and they were always in each other’s corners (whether) they win or lose,” she said. “It brings tears to my eyes that next season we’re not going to have it.”