When Eric Hernandez was in middle school in west Phoenix, his life was beginning to take a dangerous turn. He was getting in fights, facing disciplinary problems. That’s what happens to some people at that age. It could get even worse.
Hernandez needed a life preserver.
He found it in the sport of wrestling. It helped him become disciplined, gave him a strong work ethic and made him accountable. It carried over into the classroom.
Now, as a senior at Camelback High in east-central Phoenix, he has become a contender for a state championship and is excelling academically. He is on the honor roll, works as a tutor and is in various school organizations such as DECA, an organization that helps students with their business and marketing skills.
Hernandez finished sixth in the state at 182 pounds as a junior last season and currently is at 195 pounds after playing football as a defensive lineman, but hopes to get back to 182 because that is where he feels the most comfortable and where he believes his greatest chance for success lies.
“I really enjoy school and I really enjoy wrestling. They give me a sense of purpose,’’ he said.
He admitted that in middle school, he was a troublemaker, got into fights and was suspended.
Then a coach came around school looking for potential wrestlers and Hernandez decided that he would give it a try.
“I never really knew much about it. I thought it was like WWE (professional) or something,’’ Hernandez said. “When I got out there, I fell in love with it the first day.’’
It was difficult at first, but he stuck with it.
Some of his friends labeled it a sport for sissies, saying the participants grab and hold each other in unflattering ways.
“I told them to come out and see for themselves, that it is a lot tougher than they think,’’ he said. “Some of them continued and some of them didn’t. I don’t think a lot of them had the same opinion after that.’’
Wrestling, he said, “taught me to be on time, that if you want something you have to work for it. You have to work harder to improve. For me, it became kind of like an addiction.’’
Frank Manolio took over as coach during Hernandez’s sophomore season and noticed his work ethic right away.
“He has a tremendous work ethic,’’ Manolio said. “There aren’t many who are going to outwork him. He has an outstanding responsibility and commitment and he is a team captain.’’
Hernandez had an injured ankle early in the season that slowed his progress, but he has the confidence that he will be in the place he needs to be by the time of the state tournament.
“He doesn’t have 30 or 40 moves like some guys might have, but he knows his strengths and he knows how to capitalize on them. He does real well,’’ Manolio said.
It also takes discipline for a wrestler to maintain their weight. That means staying away from eating food that will increase the pounds, like pizza.
Hernandez said his mother is a good cook.
“It is my weakness. It is hard not to eat that in season. But you can’t do that. I tell her to try and make more salads, and she has done that. She has helped me,’’ he said.
He hopes to wrestle in college, perhaps at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, and major in business. He doesn’t want it to end when he graduates from Camelback. He wants to be a role model, particularly for his younger brother, Juan.
Hernandez vows to do everything he can to return to the state tournament and even win it.
“It has always been my dream to win state,’’ he said.