HERMISTON — Abraham Rodriguez is a 152-pound rabid dynamo of energy on the mat. The young man across from him — a wrestler by definition but an enemy by circumstances — must be taken out. Destroyed, even.
Rodriguez is fierce. He’s focused. He’s a breath away from just plain scary, said teammate Tyler Berger.
“He’s the meanest wrestler I’ve ever been with. I mean he’s a nice guy off the mat, but when you get in the room with him...” Berger said, finishing his thought not with words but with wide eyes and a slow shake of the head.
“He’ll tear a guy’s arm off and come off the mat laughing.”
Rodriguez brings the perfect combination of traits to the sport, coach Berger said, listing off competitiveness, natural athleticism and that raw mean streak on his fingers. The coach was forced to drop more than one “really” in accurately describing how mean Rodriguez can get.
“But that’s good,” he said. “When he puts a leg ride in, he’s not afraid to hurt you. And that’s the way you break a guy in a match mentally, emotionally.”
It’s hard to pinpoint where the vicious grizzly bear of a competitor came from, Rodriguez said with a chuckle — a laugh that is allowed to live because he hasn’t morphed into wrestling mode yet. It may have been born out of the toughness of Rodriguez’s childhood environment. The Hermiston junior was raised on a farm in Umatilla County and the lifestyle of daily physical chores helped create a specimen with plenty of energy and aggression at the ready.
Rodriguez joined his first wrestling group at age five and started siphoning some of that built-up aggression onto unsuspecting youngsters on the mat. He was hooked by the sport, an individual competition where a wrestler can brawl for himself.
“It’s basically a fight, I’ve never seen it as anything else,” Rodriguez said. “I just want to go out there and beat the guy; some of it’s by technique but I just want to beat him physically ... I just think that’s my style.”
Unfortunately for Rodriguez and the Hermiston team, the wrestler lost about a third of his junior season to injury. Before the team’s first major tournament in Spokane on Dec. 9, Rodriguez was practicing with a coach back in Hermiston. He rolled into a bad position, then a hold that strained his abdomen before pain shot across his torso.
“I heard a pop,” he said, “and I thought I’d popped a rib out.”
The pop was more of a tear, a rip in the cartilage along a few ribs on his right side. He was sidelined for a month, returning at full strength in January for the Rollie Lane Tournament in Boise, Idaho. The Bulldog is making up for lost time, eating opponents alive and winning all 18 of his matches since stepping back onto the mat.
Watching his team compete each weekend without him was taxing, Rodriguez said, but he knew rest was the only cure for his ailments. He knows his body, he said, and any movement caused nagging pain.
Most workouts were too painful to endure, which left him a half step slow in that first return to the mat. Those were tough matches, but Rodriguez rose to the task for a 4-0 record at his first tournament back — including two pins.
“It’s not like we’re surprised at all,” coach Berger said. “He was just hurt is all. It’s just exactly what we thought he would do.”
A healthy Rodriguez means expectations are high heading into the Reser’s Tournament of Champions Friday in Hillsboro. The tournament is one of the centerpieces on the Bulldogs’ schedule each season and features many of the best wrestling teams in Oregon. Berger said he expects Rodriguez to take the 152-pound title — now a year removed from winning at 145 pounds at the Reser’s in 2011.
He could be on the inside track to his first individual state title as well after second- and third-place finishes the past two years. Rodriguez is far from proclaiming himself a champion, but his eyes and will are trained on moving up that podium.
“You know, we’ll have to wait and see what happens,” he said, a light-hearted shrug that belies Hermiston’s mean teen of the mat.