Everett wrestling head coach Brien Elliott knew this day was coming.
One of his top wrestlers, Jessie Lopez, wasn’t as sure.
Lopez, who won a state title as a junior and finished third at the Tacoma Dome as a senior, had a ceremony Tuesday afternoon celebrating his commitment to Springfield College in Springfield, Mass. where he will wrestle at the Division III school next year.
“Right off the bat he went to state and placed seventh as a freshman. When someone’s able to accomplish that you kind of know that they have the skills to go on to the next level,” Elliott said. “He put in the time in middle school to be prepared to be on varsity when he came in his freshman season. It’s been a lot of fun to have him. He’s a hard worker. He’s had a lot of achievements. It’s fun celebrating the success of those achievements.”
Lopez, however, wasn’t always sure he was going to wrestle at the next level. More specifically, he wasn’t sure he had the desire to.
“It was always a goal. I wasn’t always sure I really wanted to, but now I know I want to,” Lopez said. “During my freshman and sophomore year I wasn’t sure, but the idea grew on me. I knew the opportunity would be there if I worked hard for it. It’s just something that I loved to do and getting a scholarship was just extra.”
The senior talked to a group of kids Tuesday afternoon at Evergreen Middle School, where he went to school and started his wrestling career. Elliott said that he likes to have his wrestlers that earn scholarships speak to kids to help inspire them to work hard so that they can accomplish the same feat.
He believes Lopez is a good example for the younger kids to “invest in themselves and look to the future.”
“We try to expose them, like doing this letter of intent signing with Jessie at the middle school. We want to expose them to that now,” Elliott said. “It’s important for them to know there are success stories out there and that they can be one. He was a sixth grader walking the halls of Evergreen once ? and now he’s got a wrestling scholarship.”
The other reason for the ceremony is to honor Lopez, who went to state all four years at Everett.
“You want to honor your seniors that have been in the program and have been dedicated to you and their program,” Elliott said. “That’s the thing that I’ve always stated to the kids. If you’re dedicated to me and what we’re trying to do here, I’m going to be dedicated to you in everything you do, not just in wrestling. I’ve told my wrestlers I’ll assist in whatever they need. Finding a job, being a marriage counselor, being the first person to purchase insurance from you.”
Lopez, who also won the Dick Rowley Scholarship at Everett, finished seventh in the 119-pound weight class as a freshman, and third in the same class as a sophomore. He won the 132-pound title his junior year before finishing third at state in 2013 after bumping up to the super-competitive 145-weight class.
Before the tournament Lopez talked to his brother Danny, a former Seagull who now wrestles at Trine University in Angola, Ind., about his plan to wrestle in the 145-pound weight class instead of 132.
“I talk to my brother a lot. We’re very competitive,” Jessie Lopez said. “We said we’d rather take third at a harder weight class with harder competition than win one where the competition maybe isn’t as strong.”
Needless to say, the younger Lopez has no regrets about his decision.
“It was a tough loss but it happens,” Lopez said. “It isn’t too bad. Yeah. I don’t look back on it and regret it. And now I won’t always have the question of how I would have done at 145.”
Elliott gave a clear and concise “yes” when asked if he thought Lopez would have repeated at 132-pounds.
“He wanted to take the challenge and that was important to him,” Elliott said. “We supported him. It was a tough ride at state but that’s the way it goes. I think Jessie’s in the sport more than just winning a title. I think he’s in the sport of wrestling because he loves the sport and that’s important to him. I think he saw wrestling up as a good challenge and he’s still glad he’s done it today.”
His commitment ensures that March’s Mat Classic at the Tacoma Dome will not be the last time Lopez takes to the mat. He heads to Springfield College which is graduating the No. 1-ranked 141-class Division III-wrestler in the nation in senior Joe Grippi.
However, Grippi will still be a common sight at Springfield College wrestling practices. While working on his Master’s Degree, Grippi will serve as a student coach for the Pride, and will be there to help mentor one of their newest wrestlers.
“That’d be pretty awesome,” Lopez said. “Anybody that’s that good definitely has stuff to offer, especially if they can wrestle with you.”
Elliott, who has helped about 15 of his wrestlers earn scholarships in the past seven years, was looking at some schools for Lopez and was drawn to Springfield College in part because of the academic programs. Lopez is thinking about studying athletic training, physical therapy or exercise science.
“They’re really well known for their athletic training and physical therapy programs,” Lopez said. “And they have a really good (wrestling) team, which of course played a big role.”
Lopez visited the school and noticed its feel — particularly, the climate — in the northeastern part of the United States, was pretty similar to here in the Pacific Northwest.
He’s eager to get the next part of his life underway.
“I’m kind of nervous, but looking forward to it,” Lopez said. “It’ll be a new start. A new adventure. It’ll be a lot of fun.”
Lopez wasn’t the only Everett wrestler honored at the event. The Seagulls’ Tyler Saparto was also honored with the first annual Everett wrestling alumni scholarship. Elliott called former Everett wrestlers and was able to collect $1,500 for Saparto, who is going to wrestle at Everett Community College next year.
“We’re excited to do something like that,” Elliott said. “Tyler was a really hard worker but he suffered a couple injuries that really held him back his sophomore and junior year. And even a little bit his senior year. But he loves the sport and he stuck with it. We want to recognize Tyler for all his efforts. He put in seven years of wrestling and he deserves to be recognized too.”