Portage’s Jessie Tijerina is driven to succeed on the wrestling mat

January 31, 2019
Portage junior Jessie Tijerina, ranked second in Division 1 at 126 pounds, tries to turn Slinger's Aidan Ford during a 126-pound match earlier this season at the Wisconsin Dells Center.

Portage’s Jessie Tijerina found inspiration standing on the awards podium at last year’s WIAA Division 1 state individual wrestling tournament at the Kohl Center.

Following the presentation, Tijerina shared his thoughts with his father after earning fifth place at 120 pounds and watching Stoughton’s Hunter Lewis receive first-place recognition. Father and son share a close bond, ever since Jessie was born Feb. 25 — his father’s birthday.

“He finished fifth at state, which was an amazing feat,” said Tijerina’s father, also named Jessie. “But he told me, ‘They made a mistake having me on the awards stand. Now I know how it feels. Now I know where I want to be.’”

Last year’s state tournament appearance served as a springboard for the 16-year-old Tijerina, a junior eager to begin this season’s tournament trail, starting with Saturday’s Badger Conference meet in Fort Atkinson. He hopes for a return trip to state and an even higher finish. But he understands he has to get there first.

“I’m feeling great,” he said. “I’m excited for the upcoming meets — conference, regionals, sectionals. I want to be conference champ.”

Tijerina, who finished third at 120 pounds at last year’s Badger Conference meet in Waunakee, has wrestled at 126 and 132 pounds this season. Tijerina (28-2) is ranked second in Division 1 at 126 by WIWrestling.com, behind Hortonville’s Eric Barnett, a state champion at 113 last year.

“He wrestles his best at the end of the year,” Portage coach Shane Haak said. “Last year, he took his best steps at conference, regionals and the sectional. And he wrestled a good tournament at state last year. … Jessie has always been confident. Last year, his goal was to win it. I know that is his goal again.”

Haak said Tijerina isn’t a vocal leader.

“Through his work ethic in the (wrestling) room and his preparation, he leads by example,” Haak said. “We have a younger team, and a lot of the younger wrestlers look up to Jessie. No matter who he goes against, he wrestles the same. He prepares the same and wrestles the same every match. … He is committed. He is there every day (practicing).”

With the support of his parents, Tijerina participated in numerous sports growing up, including soccer, wrestling, baseball, football and swimming.

“We found out early that Jessie had a lot of energy,” his father said.

His father said Jessie was diagnosed at a young age with ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and a doctor suggested sports could prove beneficial.

“I think it is true,” said Jessie Tijerina, who also has medication for ADHD. “It has helped me a lot. I’m able to change my focus in different ways and (competing in sports) can calm me down. I am able to put that energy into wrestling.”

His father hoped his son’s experience channeling ADHD through sports might be instructive to other young people.

The competitive aspect of wrestling is what Jessie Tijerina loves most.

He developed his work ethic as a youth, practicing at a wrestling club in Portage and since the fourth grade at Advance School of Wrestling in Madison, his father said. His father recalled Jessie passing along what his coaches said: “When no one else is doing it, that is when champions are made.”

“I told him, `It’s mat time and hard work,’” his father said, adding: “He’s very driven.”

Jessie Tijerina’s passion for wrestling made a leap after he attended the “J Robinson Wisconsin 28-day intensive wrestling camp” the summer prior to ninth grade. He was one of 178 graduates from a starting group of 480, his father said.

“Doing it by himself, and he loved it,” his father said. “He absolutely loved it. … It made him a young man.”

Said Jessie Tijerina: “It was an amazing experience. It was something I never thought I’d go through. I was just going into high school and others were older than me. It was a good experience for not only wrestling, but for life and the future. I learned a lot that could help me later on in life.”

Now, he’s learning from his prep coaches, including Shane Haak, Dustan Garrigan and Tim Haak, Shane’s father who’s the Portage athletic director and a former Harvard (Illinois) High School wrestling coach who’s been inducted into the National and Illinois wrestling halls of fame.

“He is a tremendous wrestler,” Shane Haak said of Jessie Tijerina. “He’s an even better person than wrestler — a really enjoyable person to be around. He’s a good leader for our program.”

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