Even at an early age, Oak Park and River Forest senior and three-time all-state wrestler Jason Renteria brought a special intensity and aggressiveness to his numerous sports.
“I played basketball. I ended up tackling somebody. In baseball, the kid went for my pop fly, he caught it and then I tackled him,” Renteria said. “People started saying I should be in contact sports.”
By age 5, Renteria started wrestling and by 8 he began “taking it serious.” Now he’s on the verge of achieving OPRF history by becoming the first to reach the individual state championship match all four years.
The defending Class 3A state champion at 120 pounds and two-time state runner-up should join 2016 graduate Isaiah White and 2015 graduate Larry Early as the only four-time all-staters with top-six finishes. White won three state titles and was third as a freshman. Early won in 2014 and was second twice.
“It’s incredible that I would be the first one (in four finals) after I’ve been behind and on the team with Isaiah and Larry,” Renteria said.
Renteria (35-2) won the 3A Leyden Regional title at 132 Saturday, but this season has been far from usual.
He’s preparing to compete for the University of Nebraska, where he plans to study accounting or physical therapy. Renteria also has improved channeling his intensity, made himself a better student and emerged as a team leader.
“A year ago, if we were having this conversation, I would say he wasn’t prepared for Nebraska. He’s just put forth great effort (in academics), just like in wrestling,” OPRF coach Paul Collins said.
“There’s been some emphasis on (wrestling) technique but the majority of it has been him controlling his emotions. And I think he’s really waited for senior year to be a leader and that’s something he really enjoys and he’s embracing.”
Collins said Renteria only needed to apply more time toward improving his grades. Renteria now considers himself a student-athlete, one ready to contribute as a true college freshman.
“(I thought), ‘Let’s see you do the best in both,’ ” Renteria said. “I realized I could be the best wrestler and the best student. I don’t have to choose either one.”
It’s also mind over matter on the wrestling mat.
Since his younger days, Renteria tasted success that included multiple Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation state championships. Renteria continues making strides in using that talent and intensity — and sometimes even anger — always toward his advantage in matches.
“It’s not, ‘Let’s try to beat up the guy.’ Now it’s more, ‘Let’s try to use our technique,'” Renteria said. “At first I was doubting it. Eventually it came out and I’m having a lot more fun trying new things out and giving the crowd something special.”
Renteria is ranked No. 1 by IllinoisMatmen.com with his only two losses to out-of-state opponents. And he’s focused on another state championship.
“I like (in wrestling) that I can’t put the blame on somebody else. You can tell the work I put in when I step on the mat,” Renteria said. “Ever since I was little, I’d hate to lose. If we play checkers, I have to play until I beat you. We play anything, we’re going to play until I win, and then we’ll stop.”