Toward the tail end of a grinding two-hour practice in the Ironwood Ridge wrestling room, senior Danny Vega rips through a series of single-leg takedowns and leg sweeps, then finishes with double-leg takedowns.
The 113-pounder does so without hesitation. There’s no need for small talk, water breaks or stops to catch his breath.
“When we do drills, he is pretty much a machine. There’s no stopping him; he does not rest,” Ironwood Ridge wrestling coach Tim Berrier said. “You don’t have to prod him. He’s exactly what you want from your wrestler.”
Precision and technical ability have driven Vega to a perfect 77-0 record over his last two seasons combined, with two state titles and one national title. But purpose and promise keep him a finely tuned machine.
“I’ve always trained hard, but now that kids know who I am, I know for a fact I have kids watching me,” Vega said. “Honestly, it’s better for me; it makes me push it to my limits every single day.”
Here’s a look at three goals Vega has this season as he begins his quest for a third straight state title.
Vega is I-Ridge’s most successful wrestler in program history, but there is still something he has set out to accomplish this season: He wants to win every tournament he takes part in.
First up, a big national-level invite in Reno, Nevada, next week. Vega hasn’t wrestled in the event since his freshman year, when he was one match from placing.
Teams from Oklahoma, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and a few West Coast states will see how they stack up against some of the best competition in the country.
“Its been a goal to just redeem myself,” Vega said. “I know for a fact I wasn’t training hard for that tournament at that time.
“I want to prove myself more than I have, to show I am one of the best.”
Then, over Ironwood Ridge’s winter break, the Nighthawks hop a plane and fly out to Minnesota for a dual meet with teams from Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa.
Intensity pays off
Every wrestler’s end goal is to be a state champion, and Vega isn’t shy about it, either. He’s unapologetic about his tunnel-vision focus.
“This is my life, its all I know,” Vega said. “I feel like I’m doing my job. I never get bored of winning. I’m here for the love for wrestling; I’m not in here not hanging out with my friends or just relaxing. I’m in here for a reason.”
Vega is also chasing his father, who goes by the same name, and was a three-time state champion for Sunnyside. Their competitive nature over the years has simmered to a mutual understanding.
“He’s always said, ‘I’d beat you,’ and now he’s starting to say, ‘I don’t know if I would beat you,’” Vega said of his father. “He’s probably going to be upset about that.”
Standing atop the podium with his hand raised and a first-place medal around his neck at the state tournament is not what Vega wants to be defined by or how he wishes to be remembered.
Nor does he want to be defined by his success in college at Grand Canyon University, where Vega will wrestle next year.
This summer, Vega will attempt to make the World team. He just missed the cut this past summer. Pinning shoulders to the mat at the international level simply won’t be enough.
“I want to be a role model,” Vega said. “I don’t want to just be ‘Danny the wrestler,’ I want to be an overall great guy. I have Ironwood to thank for that.”