Embracing the grind
As he sat drenched in sweat, junior wrestler Nathan Cervantez continued to stretch after his practice.
Covered in layers of clothing, Cervantez capped his practice attire with a good old singlet. Cervantez was cutting weight for the Gators’ meet against Stanford last Saturday.
“I try to maintain myself between six to eight pounds over the limit,” Cervantez said.
Fluctuating one’s weight by six to eight pounds for weeks on end might seem like a crazy, torturing lifestyle, but for Cervantez, it’s just another week in the season.
Another season of a sport he’s lived and breathed since he was eight.
“I’m actually the first one in my family to wrestle in college, and I am blessed to have the gift to get that kind of experience,” Cervantez said. “It’s something I’ve been wanting to do since I was eight.”
Discipline seems to be what draws Cervantez to wrestling. No matter how dire the situation may be in a match, a wrestler must stay true to his technique and execute even when exhausted. But the promise of a grind does not deter Cervantez. He welcomes it.
“That’s why I love it, because I put myself out of the comfort zone,” Cervantez said. “Now, I’m in a position where I can do good things… not for myself, but for my teammates, pushing them.”
This love story led Cervantez to this very season. Ranked seventh in the nation at 125 pounds in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II preseason rankings, Cervantez is the highest ranked Gator wrestler to start the season.
Cervantez has a wrestling resume many would envy. Wrestling for De La Salle High School, Cervantez won the North Coast Championship (NCS) three times, while also being the first De La Salle wrestler to be an NCS finalist, placing top two in the respective weight class during all of his four years with the team.
He also boasts titles as an eight-time California Greco State Champion and a six-time California Freestyle State champion.
“He has a background in Greco-Roman wrestling, which is cool and effective,” said SF State head coach Jason Welch. “It’s not common for people to be able to do upper body throws.”
The one platform that has eluded Cervantez’ success was the California high school state championships.
“I was always in the blood rounds,” Cervantez said. “I lost blood rounds the first three years.”
The “blood rounds” are the matches that determine the medal winners.
“My senior year [in high school] I had the mindset that this was my last year,” Cervantez said. “I was always there with the guys that place third or placed fourth… Finally, my senior year I had enough, and I got tired of losing. My only thought process was that you have to wrestle your match like it’s your last. Went out there, beat the number two kid in the nation, who was also number one in the state.”
Although Cervantez lost in the finals, he leaped from ending just outside medal placers to being a state finalist.
Last year, Cervantez had the same blood round problem in the national tournament.
“I was ranked fifth in the nation, I took top 12,” Cervantez said. “I lost to the kid who took seventh. I was pretty upset about that.”
But being so close only drives Cervantez further, and with this drive comes lofty goals and intense training regimens.
“This year I’m really focusing on either placing top three in the nationals, or even winning it,” Cervantez said.
To prepare for this season, Cervantez focused on his mental game over the summer.
“Mentally, I had a lot of problems with keeping my head in the match. I always get down on myself, but talking with coach Jason [Welch] and coach [Ryan] Loder, they kind of put me to that, you got to talk to yourself as a self-talk. You have to give that feeling that you can do anything.”
Jason Welch is the second head coach who Cervantez has wrestled under at SF State. Welch represents a younger coaching staff, one that can be more active with the team than previous head coach Lars Jensen, who coached the team for a staggering 34 years.
With Welch at the helm, Cervantez garnered a national ranking.
This year, he plans to prove he deserves it.