Not long ago, Hunter Collins and Jesse Delgado were two pieces to the most successful Gilroy High wrestling season to date. Four years later, the pair of GHS graduates, each with decorated careers as Mustangs – including two state titles and eight Central Coast Section championships between them – will cross paths on the collegiate stage Jan. 8.
Collins’ No. 8-ranked Michigan Wolverines host Delgado’s No. 7 University of Illinois Fighting Illini in a Big Ten dual meet, pitting two teams with a combined 9-2 dual record this season.
Both wrestlers were a part of the 2008 GHS wrestling team that recorded a program best second place at the CIF State Championships – a performance highlighted by Collins’ state title at 171 pounds and teammate Martin Gonzalez’s first of back-to-back state championships. The following year, Gonzalez repeated and shared in state glory with Delgado, who claimed the 112-pound crown.
“That was a great time,” Collins recalled as he spoke by phone from his friend Martin’s house Wednesday. “It’ll be fun to see (Jesse on Jan. 8). Illinois and Michigan always have competitive teams. It should be a good dual meet. We are both going to do the best we can for our teams.”
Delgado graduated from GHS in 2010 and transferred to Illinois in time for the fall semester after receiving clearance from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to make the move.
The redshirt freshman is off to a quick start for the Fighting Illini with a 2011-12 resume that lists a tournament title at the Loras Open on Nov. 6. And in his most recent match, Delgado earned a 21-5 tech fall victory in an Illini 30-6 triumph over University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Dec. 18.
“I’ve had two big matches so far this season: I lost one to the No. 2 or No. 3 guy, I’m not sure what he was ranked. And I wrestled the No. 1 kid (Matt McDonough) and beat him at Iowa a couple of weeks ago,” Delgado said, though unsure of his overall record thus far, estimating he is 13-1 or so. “Wrestling in Iowa was pretty cool. It was something like 8,000 or 10,000 (fans), I’m not sure, but it felt like a million people watching. They were all cheering for the other guy. It was awesome wrestling in an environment like that.”
Delgado’s victory over McDonough on Dec. 2 came in overtime and counted as his first dual loss of his career. Iowa ended up winning the match, however.
And what’s it like at the Division I level in a conference known for its wrestling?
“It is a grind and, most of the time, whoever wins ends up winning because they are tougher,” Delgado said.
Collins is all too familiar with the daily grind. Now in his third season with the Wolverines, the red shirt junior is finding his groove after missing some time earlier this season. He made his dual meet debut Dec. 11 against conference opponent Wisconsin. Collins’ 4-3 decision win help Michigan topple the Badgers, 21-12.
“My knees were a little sore, so we were just making sure everything was OK. But I’m fine,” Collins said.
Collins placed seventh at the Big Ten championships two seasons ago. His second full season didn’t meet his standards and ended with a 0-2 showing at the conference meet.
“Last year was rough. I couldn’t really find my stride and get things going,” Collins said. “Every single person has the ability to beat you or get the upset, so there is no room to take a match lightly. I have nowhere to go but up and that’s enough motivation. We have a new coaching staff that is pushing us. I think Michigan is a contender for nationals this year.”
The two won’t be toe-to-toe in the circle against one another – Delgado wrestles at 125 pounds while Collins weighs in at 184 pounds. But nevertheless, the conference dual is something each is looking forward to.
“I actually asked for a little help on one of my homework assignments last week,” Delgado said, adding that he and Collins hung out some during the summer. “It’ll be pretty cool to go over there and see him wrestle.
“That was always the goal, to be on a top-notch team,” Delgado added. “It would’ve been cool if we were on the same team. I think we both want each other to do well and to get to nationals, which is really all that matters.”