OTHELLO – Postseason wrestling sits on the brink for athletes around the Basin. Othello senior Isaiah Perez prepares for his final run at a state title as a Huskie. Few will be caught off-guard by the two-time champion as Perez has been gaining attention for years for his dominance, not only on the mat, but on the football field as well.
The Huskie senior admitted that his final season has been flying by, especially after having his football season cut short. Perez said it was tough, knowing how excited he and the rest of the senior class were for this season’s potential.
“I really wanted to be on the field helping, but I had to do as much as I could on the sideline,” Perez said. “But they still did good without me, and I think we definitely showed people how good we could be.”
Perez said the support of all these coaches and his defensive line coaches in his time, especially through his injury this season, was huge. It was support and passion for sports in Perez’s family and friends that got him involved at a young age.
Ever since around third grade, Perez said he’s been traveling and playing sports, picking up wrestling at age 6.
“I think it started getting more serious going into middle school, and definitely kicked up in high school, going to football camps and everything,” Perez said.
The time invested for Perez has paid off so far, picking up a pair of state wrestling titles on the mat, while his work on the gridiron earned him a spot on Brigham Young University’s football team.
The Othello senior’s success on the mat hasn’t made his path any easier this season. Regular season duals and tournaments gain an extra edge as opponents get fired up for a shot at “taking down the two-time champion.”
“It’s definitely going to be one of the toughest ones, just having that target on my back,” he said. “So making sure that I work hard and I put myself into position to be able to win because, now that people have seen me, it’s tough getting around the state wrestling.”
Perez said he’s seen people who work specific defense against the moves he’s used before, forcing him to adjust his strategy as a wrestler. The senior said it’s helped mold him into a well-rounded wrestler.
Moving into the postseason next month, Perez said he feels good about how he’s wrestling right now, and is just looking to clean up some things before his district tournament.
“I feel like I’ve seen a lot of competition this year, and gotten a lot of good matchups, and have some good outcomes,” Perez said. “Been doing pretty good, but still have some stuff to work on and some stuff to clean up before postseason, so I’ve gotta get that done in practice the next couple of weeks.”
It’s in practice and in the wrestling room that Perez has developed his game to the level it’s at today, surrounded and supported by his coaching staff at Othello. The senior said head coach Rudy Ochoa II has been “one of the best coaches” he’s had in his athletic career. Perez talked about the time his coach put in, staying late or coming in to help him train and work on his technique.
“He’s always told me from the beginning how good I could be and what I could accomplish,” Perez said. “He really put that confidence in me that I could win, and I really think that’s what put me on top.”
By February of their senior season, most wrestlers have become comfortable with the tournament setting through weekend events and postseason experience. Perez talked about how he approaches the format heading into his final run.
“I try to mainly focus on the first guy at hand because I go in pretty confident, but there’s always the nervousness of going into a match,” Perez said. “So I’ve gotta make sure I get over that one match before I get to the next one.”
A third title, Perez said, would mean a great deal to him.
“That would be the first three-time champion in Othello history, so it would be pretty cool to be able to go down in Othello and leave a mark like that at this school,” Perez said.
Perez talked about the support he’s found in the small community of Othello, a place he said he loves living.
“You can walk through Walmart and they’ll congratulate you on winning a match or something, and they’ll celebrate you and make you feel good about yourself,” Perez said. “And they’ll always be there for you, for your downfalls and when you’re on top, so it’s a great community.”
After his time for the Huskies comes to an end, Perez won’t head off to BYU right away. The Othello senior said he will be serving a religious mission for the next two years before heading back to the football field.
“It’s what I believe in and I feel really strongly in it, and I just felt like it was the right thing for me to do and the right thing for my future,” Perez said. “I didn’t want to regret not doing it later in my future, so I decided it was the best thing for me in my life.”
It is a dedication that has helped define Perez’ legacy up to this point, both in and outside athletics. For now, that dedication and drive are centered on one goal, and that will be settled on the mat in the Tacoma Dome on February 22.