When it comes to students of wrestling, Sterling's Jaden Urrutia might be valedictorian.
The 113-pound sophomore takes his wrestling seriously, whether it's tangling with a bigger teammate in practice or studying film of matches. It's one of the reasons why last year's Class 2A Rock Island Regional champ has designs on a higher postseason finish this year.
"Last year, as a freshman, I think I let the pressure and doubt get into my head at sectionals, and didn't wrestle the way I wanted to," said Urrutia, who won the regional crown with an overtime pin. "This year, I'm 100 percent sure I can keep up with everyone I'll face. Nothing is going to get into the back of my mind, no doubts at all, and I'm going to be aggressive and wrestle my way … and hopefully, that will get me down to state."
The beauty of Urrutia's style is that he really doesn't have just one. He's as comfortable on the bottom as he is riding an opponent out, and he also feels he has an advantage on his feet.
But the thing that separates Urrutia from many of his opponents is the ability to adjust throughout the course of a single bout, to find any advantage he can and exploit it.
"That's such a big benefit," Sterling coach Charlie Bishop said, "and it's the reason why he always seems to be at his best in the biggest matches."
"If you can't adjust, if you wrestle every match the same, your opponents will figure that out and learn how to defend it," said Urrutia, who is 18-4 and ranked 11th in Class 2A by Illinois Matmen. "When you can feel the other guy out, figure out what he's trying to do before you start in on him, it's going to give you a better chance of winning."
It's not just on the mat where Urrutia studies his opponents. Bishop said you can always find the sophomore watching videos of his matches, trying to learn how his opponents have attacked him in the past so he can improve his weaknesses in the future.
Urrutia is also always looking for new things to add to his arsenal.
"He'll watch wrestling videos all the time," Bishop said, "and he'll say, 'Hey Coach, I like this move, can we work on it?' He's learned a lot of what I call East Coast style, which are rolls and twists and turns, more funky styles we're not used to seeing around here. He'll never stay still, and he's always moving and trying to find some way to turn the tables on his opponent."
Both Urrutia and Bishop credit assistant coaches Kevin Heller and Jeff Gale for helping out with whatever Urrutia wants to work on next.
But the biggest improvements haven't come from the new additions to his repertoire. It's been the constant work since last year's sectional performance on what Urrutia felt he needed to fix, from footwork to attitude to sheer strength.
"You see a lot of focus from Jaden, and you see it every day," Bishop said. "He always finds tougher guys to go against in practice, guys he knows will give him a good match, maybe even beat him, but who will make him better. He never takes things lightly, never just goes for an easy win, and he's wrestling with a lot of confidence.
"Even when he's down and out, he'll keep fighting and finding ways to score points and trying to come back and win."
Urrutia says a lot of that fire and determination comes from his teammates. He calls the Golden Warriors "a united family," and says that working out as a team every Monday and Wednesday throughout the summer means so much when it comes to working harder and pushing further.
"When you're together as much as we are – we work out, hang out, eat lunch together – you can't help but love every single one of these guys," Urrutia said. "That makes it so much more fun, sharing it with them. You're happier when you win, and they're always there for you when you don't.
"I'd still like winning my matches without these guys, but I wouldn't enjoy it as much as I do now."
At the beginning of every season, Bishop and his coaches have the wrestlers write down their goals for what they want to accomplish by the end of the season. Last year, as a freshman, Urrutia wrote "14 varsity wins, get to the sectional."
"I didn't really know what I was doing," Urrutia said, "and when the season was over and I looked back at that, I had 32 wins and a regional title.
"So this year, I just took it one step further. My one main goal is to get to state, and that means I have to keep looking ahead. I don't want to get ahead of myself, just focus on the next match whether I win or lose. If I do that, I'll be competitive every time I'm out there."
Weight class: 113
Record: 18-4, with 5 pins and 4 tech. falls
Ranking: 11th (by Illinois Matmen)
FYI: Won 32 bouts as a freshman at 106 pounds. … Won 2A regional title with pin in overtime.