Unlike the room temperature halls of the Don Nasser Family Plaza on the campus of SF State, the wrestling room is uncomfortably hot and unusually empty.
Six wrestlers litter the room that usually houses five times the amount.
“There are usually around 30 people who practice in the room,” said SF State wrestling head coach Jason Welch. He starts the postseason practice with some stretches, warmups, and a light jog.
For all but two Gator wrestlers, the season is over.
After qualifying for the NCAA Division II Championships, redshirt senior Jordan Gurrola and redshirt sophomore Justin Pichedwatana continue their grind on the wrestling mat, along with a few stragglers.
For Gurrola, this is his second trip to the national tournament, but this season has been his first competing for the Gators since the beginning of his junior year, where he took time off from the school and the sport.
“I went home for a year,” Gurrola said. “I wasn’t doing anything at all. Kinda just realized that I’m not doing anything with my life. I started working, but after a couple of months of doing literally nothing at all.”
The next year, Gurrola spent his senior year as a redshirt, practicing with the team, but unable to represent at competitions.
Assistant head coach Ryan Loder was kicking a soccer ball around with some of the wrestlers. Coach Welch struck some casual conversations with others.
One of the wrestlers was mopping the mat around all the commotion.
Gurrola continued to jog, completing warmups he had been doing since he was a kid.
“I’ve been wrestling since I was like four years old,” Gurrola said. “My dad had his own kids’ (wrestling) club. He started with my older brothers before I was born. So basically I was born into the sport.”
Gurrola comes from a family of wrestlers, both of his older brothers wrestled, while his youngest sister Grace is beginning to pick up the family trade. The 14-year-old has been wrestling for a few years now.
Only one sibling in the Gurrola household of five did not fall into wrestling, his other sister Gemma.
Even with most of his family into wrestling, Gurrola found a way to extinguish himself on the mat. Gurrola developed a style he self-described as “funky.”
When tasked with imagining a typical wrestler, an image of a shorter, stockier figure comes up. Gurrola represents one of the less “typical” body types; tall, long limbs and skinny.
“I’ve always been kind of a weird wrestler,” Gurrola said. “Being so tall and lengthy, and just kind of wiry.”
“We got Jason (Welch) coming in now. Jason just wrestles really weird, and he has a different style to everybody else,” the national tournament qualifier said.
Gurrola pointed to the Bay Area Funk wrestling camp shirt Coach Loder donned. The camp is run by Welch and welcomes unorthodox wrestling styles.
Coach Welch’s outlandish style resonated with Gurrola more than the previous coach, Lars Jensen, and his old-school style.
“I had my first three years [at SF State] with Jensen,” Gurrola said. “He was older, he was more of a heavyweight wrestler. Jensen was a little more old-school. It was kind of a different style.”
No one is running anymore and the soccer ball lies forgotten in the corner.
The team starts light drilling, as practice gets underway.
Gurrola works on his single leg takedowns at a brisk, leisurely pace. 15 minutes in, the pace picks up. Gurrola is no longer working on takedowns, but defense. Coach Loder is looking over his drilling, it was time to work on specifics.
“Stuff that we watched over the past year and over the last tournament, … that’s what we’ve been working on,” Loder said. “I think we are having some … difficulty [with] mat management, which is when we’re up by a point, or maybe a small amount of points. Getting the next takedown, coming through, and being aware of more strategy-based stuff.”
This is Loder’s second year with the team, but he already sees a difference in Gurrola’s wrestling.
“It’s been huge,” Loder said. “Now he’s turned into a team leader and team captain. We’re really happy that he came from … not going out and competing for the school, to coming back and finishing his classes. Now he’s gonna graduate.”
Gurrola continues to drill, going through intense situational bouts with his teammates, while Loder is spitting out advice on the side. The session covered everything from takedown defense to bottom-position escapes.
With a little over a week left for the national tournament this Friday, March 8th, Gurrola is working on all the little details. The only other thing he needs to worry about is making weight, queue the hot wrestling room.
“Gurrola is probably sitting around at eight [pounds] over right now,” Welch said. “So make sure the room’s hot.”
Yet another appearance on the national stage seems like a fitting end to Gurrola’s Gator wrestling career. The former freshman athlete of the year will get another chance to place, after an almost two-year hiatus from competing for SF State.
Wrestling was the one thing that led Gurrola to the university.
“I had a scholarship from wrestling, that was the whole reason I got into college at all,” Gurrola said. “I was basically trying to continue on [wrestling]. I was the first in my family … two of my older brothers, neither one of them went to an actual [four-year] college or a university or anything like that.”
While Gurrola came with wrestling dominating his mind, he is still on track to graduate this spring with a degree in liberal arts, and a minor in criminal justice.
As for what Gurrola plans to do after graduating, the future is foggy.
“For the most part I have absolutely no idea what I want to do with it,” Gurrola said of his major. “I don’t have a specific dream job.”
When asked about wrestling, Gurrola is quick to voice his want for a break, but will not shut the possibility down.
“It’s gonna be cool to kind of live life for a little, like a normal person for the most part, and figure out where I’m going from here,” Gurrola said. “It’s [wrestling] part of my life at this point. Like I said I’ve been doing it for 19 years. Almost my entire life I’ve been doing this, so there’s no way I’ll be able to fully step away from it, but I’m definitely looking to take a little time after.”
A few days out from his last tournament as a Gator, albeit the most important one, Gurrola has a lot on his mind and an eye to another break from wrestling. Placing in a national tournament would be a fitting send off to his Gator wrestling career.
The man who quit the team two years before comes back to be a team leader and is back on the national stage. It’s tough to argue that Gurrola deserves his next break from the sport.