With all of the hype surrounding the return of football to Colorado State University-Pueblo, wrestling’s return has been lost in the shuffle.
Once a very successful program which produced 11 national champions and 64 all-Americans, the school dropped wrestling from its athletic department in 2001.
Now back in full force, the wrestling program is looking for a return to its former glory days.
Head coach Dax Charles has assembled a group of grapplers hoping to make a name for themselves and the team. One of those players is freshman Markus Portillos.
Portillos, 22, was one of Charles’ first recruits to be added to the new program. He won a state championship wrestling at Pueblo East as a senior in 2004, posting a 32-2 match record.
Portillos enrolled at CSU-Pueblo and majored in sociology for one semester before leaving the university. He worked construction jobs and volunteered to coach wrestling at his high school alma-mater for more than three years before officially being named an assistant coach last year.
With no realistic hope of wrestling competitively again, Portillos was resigned to the fact that he would not have the opportunity again to pin an opponent to the mat and have his arm raised in triumph.
Instead, he decided he would help young high school wrestlers realize their dream to be a state champion just as he had done.
Then the impossible occurred.
Wrestling was coming back to CSU-Pueblo and the new coach wanted the 5-foot-6-inch Portillos to be a part of the team as a walk-on.
Now halfway through his first collegiate season, Portillos has discovered that like most student-athletes at CSU-Pueblo, it can be very difficult to balance academics, athletics and finances.
Because he is a walk-on, athlete and does not have an athletic scholarship, Portillos must pay for his own education.
“It’s tough because you can’t work, compete and go to school at the same time,” Portillos said. “I work during the summer and offseason and try to save up as much money as possible so I am then able to give it all I’ve got during the season.”
Fortunately for the Pueblo native, he is able to live off-campus with family.
Wrestling consumes most of Portillos’ time during the season. There are five practices a week when the team does not have a meet. Each practice lasts 90 minutes and after practice the team lifts weights for an hour. In addition to practice and lifting weights, Portillos runs in his free time to keep his physical endurance high for his wrestling matches.
Portillos’ record stands at 16-10 after a 2-1 performance last week at the Tracy Borah Duals at Western State College last Saturday in Gunnison, Colo.
“Markus is very talented and I am looking for him to make nationals this year,” Charles said. “Markus has three more seasons left and should be a contender each year.”
With five meets left in the season, Portillos said he hopes to finish the season strong and possibly make the NCAA Division II National Championships in March.
“My expectations for this season were to come out and compete and to hopefully qualify for nationals,” Portillos said. “I think I can be one of the elite in the conference.”
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