His nickname may be Sleepy, but don’t mistake Nick Villarreal’s calm, laid-back demeanor for an inability to get excited or pumped up. The Gilroy High junior lets his actions do all the talking, and so far his performances on the mat have been terrific. Having finished sixth in last year’s CIF State Wrestling Championships at heavyweight, Villarreal entered the week ranked No. 1 in California in his weight class.
“Winning state is my goal,” he said. “I know it’s going to take consistent training and preparation.”
Villarreal had a 12-1 record after the Garlic City Rumble, the event that brought two nationally-ranked teams to Gilroy High on Jan. 2. In Wyoming Seminary of Pennsylvania—ranked No. 2 in the nation at the time—and No. 6 Montini Catholic of Illinois, the No. 14 Mustangs were the definitive underdogs in both matches, a testament to the big-time talent of those respective schools. Gilroy had duals with the powerhouse programs, losing to Wyoming Seminary 38-25 and to Montini Catholic, 42-27.
“We’re a big fish in a small pond around here, but when we get out in the ocean with the sharks, you get a perspective of the quality of competition and monster teams in the country,” said Marco Sanchez, who is the Gilroy High principal and longtime volunteer assistant coach in the Gilroy High program. “These teams are freaking nails.”
Villarreal and teammates Chase Saldate and Ryan Reyes were the three Gilroy wrestlers who won both of their respective matches in the Garlic City Rumble, with Villarreal recording a pair of first-period pins. Villarreal followed that impressive performance with a win over Palma and a second-place finish in the ultra-competitive Doc Buchanan Invitational last weekend. In the Garlic City Rumble, Villarreal said the environment was top-notch.
“It felt a little different because some of our duals we’ll get maybe a quarter of what showed up for that event,” Villarreal said. “That would be right up there with my season highlight. That and taking third at the Ironman Tournament (in Ohio) because it was such a hard tournament. I wrestled good in that tournament and had the opportunity to show my skills to more people and college coaches around the country.”
Villarreal has already taken official visits Fresno State and Rutgers, and if he continues to develop, more Division I programs will come his way. Villarreal usually weighs around 245 pounds, 40 below the limit for heavyweight. Compared to most heavyweights, Villarreal has superior agility, athleticism and cardio.
“I think I’m one of the faster heavyweights and have more stamina than most of the guys I wrestle,” he said. “For me being an athlete helps out.”
Villarreal said first-year Mustangs coach Daniel Cormier has elevated the Gilroy wrestling room to another level.
“It’s been a lot different the way things are run now because it’s more like a college wrestling room atmosphere,” he said. “Our training is a lot more structured and with these coaches everything is organized where everything is intense.”
Villarreal wrestled at 170 pounds as a freshman before a growth spurt put him in the 220-pound division for most of last year. At the end of last season, Villarreal made the switch to heavyweight, figuring his movement and conditioning would be favorable against bigger wrestlers. The decision paid off in the form of a strong sixth-place showing at state, which only whetted his appetite to win it all this season.
Villarreal is part of a powerful contingent of wrestlers who plan on going down as the greatest single-season team in program history. The Mustangs are loaded with talent, deep and aiming to win the first state championship in program history. They finished as the state runner-up last season for the second time in program history.
As it stands now, Buchanan would be considered the favorite after winning the Doc Buchanan Invitational with 194 points. Gilroy finished fourth with 140 points, trailing two out of state programs that placed second and third. Fortunately for the Mustangs, they have plenty of time to be at their peak in February and March, when the section and state tournaments are contested.
“One of the things we do is a lot of is conditioning, and I think that is why we’re one of the best teams in the country,” Villarreal said.
Saldate was the only Gilroy wrestler to a championship at the Doc Buchanan Invitational, taking the 138-pound title in impressive fashion. Reyes placed third at 195, John Fox finished fifth at 145, Dan Vizcarra took sixth at 152, and Jayden Gomez was seventh at 113.
Villarreal received the nickname Sleepy from Sanchez and his teammates a couple of years ago because of his propensity to look somewhat drowsy in all situations.
“I got the nickname because they say I always look tired and never get pumped up,” Villarreal said. “I guess compared to other people I’m a bit more laid back and calm, but I want to win and compete just as much as anyone.”
Of that, there is no doubt.