HERMISTON — The skies are dark on a cold November morning, just like every morning Hermiston senior Joey Delgado wakes up, hauls himself out of bed and pulls on a pair of Bulldogs sweatpants. The same darkness greets him upon returning home each night. More than 12 hours pass from when he leaves for wrestling practice before dawn to when he comes home after a second helping of training after school. Some days it’s more like 14 or 15 hours.
The shortened days that come with the winter season — or wrestling season as it’s called around the Hermiston High hallways — have little to do with Delgado’s drive to miss the sun entirely. If the daylight shined longer, he’d probably wrestle longer. And he’s perfectly content with the way things are.
Wrestling will bring Delgado to higher education at Oregon State on a wrestling scholarship next year. It’s taken him to prestigious national wrestling meets, to Siberian Russia to compete against some of the world’s best and also into the realm of Hermiston sports lore. The 18-year-old is chasing a feat no other Bulldog wrestler has ever caught: The elusive four-peat.
Hermiston coach Curt Berger has watched Delgado mature from a scrapper in the youth wrestling program a decade ago to the finely tuned grappling machine he is today. Berger calls Delgado one of the best he’s ever seen and one of the best to come out of Hermiston — maybe ever.
“He gets better every year, and I mean way better,” Berger said. “He’s doing stuff we’ve never even seen before. He studies wrestling, the great wrestlers in the nation. He picks up all their tricky stuff.”
Those ever-changing, ever-growing skills have helped Delgado capture titles in each of his first three years at the school. He’s posted a remarkable 152-2 record in a Bulldogs singlet, including a perfect 54-0 season last year.
That level of success is only possible through determination, Berger said, the kind of drive that gets Delgado up every morning at 5:30 a.m. to train. That intensity comes from his family, his teammates at Hermiston, but most importantly something special inside him, the coach said.
Delgado is quick to point out his coaches’ role in it all, a factor Berger neglected to mention.
“All my coaches are workaholics,” Delgado said. “Like (assistant coach) Rob Berger. He’s not the youngest guy around but he says he can beat any of us up because he works harder than any of us.
“That’s the foundation of Hermiston wrestling. You work hard and you build up. You make sure no one works harder than you. I always say ‘Working and no worries.’ You want to work to where you have no worries when you step on the mat.”
As Delgado prepares for a run at his fourth title — likely in the 148-pound weight class, up from 135 last year — the Bulldogs will be training to extend their streak of team dominance to six straight state championships. All the previous hardware brightens up a trophy case but won’t affect a single match this season, Delgado said.
“Our big thing is train like it’s your first (championship),” he said. “You’ve got to be hungry like it’s your first one.”
Even if that training sometimes gets in the way of seeing the sun.