Zachary Ruelas entered the room with a reserved demeanor that is often missing from many wrestlers who have seen his success.
The soon-to-be Salinas High junior can be found in the Cowboys’ weight room and on the football field for summer practices, but in a couple of weeks, he will be in Fargo, North Dakota wrestling in USA Wrestling’s junior and cadet national championships.
Zachary was introduced to wrestling at the age of six, but after that one year, he didn’t get back on the mat until his sixth grade year.
“I decided to get back into wrestling around that time, because I wanted to be prepared for junior high wrestling,” Zachary said.
During that time, Zachary and his family moved to Fresno for a brief stint. While in Fresno, Zachary participated in a few open mat days at Clovis West, a Central Section school known for excelling at many sports, including wrestling.
“Those practices were pretty intense,” Zachary said matter of factly.
Zachary and his family ultimately returned to Salinas and in his seventh grade year, he was wrestling at Palma.
As Zachary entered his ninth grade season at Salinas High, the 5-foot-8 wrestler with the frame of a semi-truck quickly found a home on the varsity squad in the 195-pound weight class.
After his freshman campaign, Zachary moved up to the 220-pound weight class because his summer football workouts made it difficult for him to stay at 195-pounds.
“I was hoping to stay at 195,” Zachary said with a sly smile. “With all of the weightlifting we do in the summer for football, I kind of gained a couple of pounds and had to move up.”
The jump to 220 proved to be a challenge to Zachary, but it wasn’t one he couldn’t overcome.
“It was harder,” Zachary said. “They’re bigger guys, and a lot taller. I’m one of the shorter guys in the weight class.”
Zachary said the transition from football workouts to wrestling workouts isn’t as extreme as one would think.
“In football, we’re conditioning all the time,” Zachary said. “We’re a fast-paced team so that helps a bit.”
Zachary started wrestling at competitions during the summer nearly three years ago with the mindset that the summertime wrestling would help propel him new heights.
“I set a bar really high and wanted to be at a certain point before my junior year,” Zachary said. “And here I am, before my junior year already qualifying for nationals.”
The approach taken in preparation for matches or tournaments isn’t as academic as other sports.
“For wrestling, it’s not really like football. You can’t get film on people and study their every move,” Ruelas said. “It varies for some people and every one can go out there with a different game plan every match.”
Zachary’s father, Jaime, who is an assistant wrestling coach at Salinas and was a standout high school wrestler during his days at Gonzales High School, said Zachary’s development over the years has been a sight to see.
“I knew we had a lot of work to do because he was getting beat his first year,” Ruelas said. “When we got him to the sixth grade level, he placed at the state tournament and then I knew we had something going.”
Zachary also placed at the state tournament in his eighth grade year after sitting out the seventh grade year so he could attend a wrestling camp to help him prepare for that eighth-grade state tournament.
Zachary competes in Greco and freestyle wrestling, but said if he had to pick one over the other, he’d go with Greco.
“Wrestling has really changed, back then they were focusing on leg attack and now it’s more focused on throwing and upper body strength for me,” Zachary said.
Greco is also the style that Jaime prefers to see his son wrestle in more as he gets older.
“I’ve been wanting to get him to Greco, because I knew he was a bigger guy,” Ruelas said. “Big guys have no business shooting for legs. They belong on the upper body.”
As Zachary continues to train in preparation for nationals, the Ruelas family is still raising money to pay for the cost of the trip.
A final fundraiser Jaime will organize is an enchilada platter which he will sell for $15. Each platter will include 12-15 enchiladas. Ruelas also said that any monetary donation on the behalf of Zachary’s trip is able to be used as a tax write-off.
Zachary’s recent success on the mat hasn’t affected the way he carries himself once he leaves the wrestling room.
In his free time, Zachary, along with a couple other Salinas wrestlers, will help out coaching the wrestlers from Washington Middle School.
“My coach mentioned it and I thought it was going to be good to do,” Zachary said. “I’d like to pass (what I know about wrestling) to those kids there and get them ready for high school.”
Jaime was thrilled when he learned Zachary was helping out with the wrestlers at Washington.
“Zachary and I had talked about it previously and with all of the talent he has, that maybe he should help out the younger wrestlers,” Ruelas said. “It’s going to build the Salinas High team stronger.
“With his talent and the talent of the rest of the coaches giving back to Washington, when they come up to Salinas, we’ll be waiting for them and welcoming them with open arms. Hopefully we’ll get some really good wrestlers out of it.”
If you’re interested in ordering a enchilada platter or want to donate to help pay for Zachary’s trip to North Dakota, call Jaime Ruelas at 831-210-3728.