For the first time in a long time, Ironwood Ridge junior Danny Vega Jr. rested during his summer vacation.
While relaxing with his mother at Newport Beach in California, Vega finally didn’t have to focus on his next wrestling match, his next training session with an Olympic gold medalist like Henry Cejudo or a four-time All-American like Eric Larkin.
On Tuesday afternoon, he was just a normal 16-year- old. But the respite didn’t last long.
“It feels pretty good but I’m probably going to start missing practice in a couple days,” Vega said. “I want to get back.”
For Arizona’s first-ever junior wrestling Triple Crown winner since the feat came into existence in 2009, breaks don’t last very long. Though, this one was well deserved – Vega captured the final two pieces of the crown last weekend at the Asics/Vaughan Junior and Cadet National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota, in Greco-Roman and freestyle, following his folkstyle national title in April.
Breaks just don’t jell with Vega’s insatiable drive, and it’s been that way since he resumed wrestling five years ago. His father, Danny Vega Sr., a three-time state champion at Sunnyside High School and a co-founder of Tucson Cyclones wrestling club, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Once I started wrestling I knew I’d have to be super committed,” Danny Vega Jr. said.
Especially after he gave it up the first time.
The younger Danny was always destined for the family sport, as even his grandfather, Andy Villa, was a state champion for Pueblo in 1975. Danny Vega Sr. put his eldest son into wrestling at the age 3, but before his fifth birthday arrived, Danny Vega Jr. was done. He was ready for something else.
“It was hard for me to show up for basketball or football; I didn’t know any of those sports,” Danny Vega Sr. said. “I knew baseball and I’d show up, but I was just there to support my son, I really couldn’t really get into it.
“But the minute he told me he wanted to get back into wrestling (at age 11), it was an awesome moment.”
The accomplished wrestling coach did have some apprehensions. He couldn’t take another heartbreak.
“My first response was, ‘No, if you quit, I’ll never talk to you again,’ ” Danny Vega Sr. said, tongue-in-cheek. “That’s how I felt about it because it’s a passion of mine and when we do it, we do it to the best of our ability.”
Now, after completing one of the most accomplished individual runs in Tucson wrestling history, the father-son team are still happily talking. Sandwiched between Danny Vega Jr.’s first title in Fargo in 2013 and the two most recent, his record is nearly flawless.
Danny Vega Jr. went 43-0 at I-Ridge on the way to the Division I 106-pound state title as a sophomore, he won the Flowing Wells Invitational and his only real disappointment came in May at the FILA Cadet Freestyle championships. He recently rose to the top spot for 106 pounds in the Asics FloRankings for high school wrestlers.
Few of matches have been close.
“I don’t like to lose at all so I just always push myself,” Danny Vega Jr. said. “I don’t like to win by a point or two, I just like to dominate.”
Danny Vega Jr. didn’t become a U.S. World Team hopeful overnight. It was more like over a year.
Yet, with the few early losses long gone in the rear view mirror, Danny Vega Jr. is considered a seasoned veteran at I-Ridge and with the Cyclones.
Club teammate Sebastian Mordecai, an eighth-grader and future I-Ridge wrestler, was match side during Danny Vega Jr.’s state title victory. Mordecai, who accounted for one of the seven national championships the Cyclones won this summer, said he studied Danny Vega Jr.’s incredible speed and footwork.
And Roman Bravo-Young, the closest in terms of talent to Danny Vega Jr. at the Cyclones, is both learning and close on his heels. The two have trained together since Roman’s grandfather, Michael Bravo, co-founded the club.
“(Bravo-Young) is becoming a lot better wrestler,” Danny Vega Jr. said. “He’s already been really good since we’ve joined up, but he’s a lot more technical now and he’s really tough.”
Bravo-Young won’t be able to unseat Danny Vega Jr. when he starts his high school career at Sunnyside, since the freshman will wrestle a weight class below. Right now things are friendly, without the rivalry, but Bravo-Young already started his pursuit in terms of hardware.
He won his first Cadet Freestyle National Championship in Fargo last weekend, an accomplishment his grandfather couldn’t be more proud of.
“Winning a national title is a childhood dream of Roman’s and also a dream of mine,” Bravo said while clutching the national title plaque in his chest. “Both of my boys were All-Americans back in the day. While I was at the tournament during those years, I just imagined what it would feel like to have someone from the family reach that pinnacle.
“When Roman accomplished that feat, it was like my life had been fulfilled.”