By John Philip Wyllie
Having battled to first place finishes this season in the Mira Mesa, El Cajon, Holtville and the San Diego Classic wrestling tournaments, Hilltop High School’s Sergio Santillan is off to another promising start. This 112 pound two-time CIF champion and 2003 Master’s champ is setting his sights however, on even loftier goals this season.
“This year, I would like to place at least eighth in the state and make it on to the U.S. Junior National Team during the (high school) off-season,” Santillan said. Though only a junior, Santillan has a pretty good idea of where he might be wrestling collegiately in a few years.
“I am looking toward Columbia, Northern Arizona University or Bakersfield,” said Santillan, a former San Diego Union-Tribune scholar-athlete. “All three have excellent wrestling programs.”
Santillan’s interest in wrestling began at the age of six.
“My dad got my brother and I involved in soccer, baseball, football and wrestling. I love playing football and if I was a little bigger I would still be playing this year, but I have a real good opportunity to get a wrestling scholarship, so last year I gave up on the other sports to concentrate on wrestling.” His dedication to the sport is paying off.
“I don’t have a kid on this team with a greater will to win,” said Hilltop’s wrestling coach, Tim Tyler. “He is very driven in every facet of his life. Sergio doesn’t have all the fancy moves that some of the other wrestlers have, but he has a very strong will to win.”
Santillan also has incredible quickness, both of body and of mind.
“He does everything quickly and he is always thinking,” said Tyler. “He’s always one, two or three steps ahead of his opponents.” Santillan credits his Mexican-born father and American-born mother with a lot of his success.
“My parents have never allowed me to quit at anything. Once I begin playing a sport, I have to finish (the season). They try to come out to watch all of our meets, Santillan said, “so they are very supportive.”
Santillan takes pride in being one of top Hispanic wrestlers in the area.
“You don’t see too many Mexican-Americans in wrestling,” Santillan said. “Marlon Frausto (Eastlake High) and I and the state’s number eight wrestler (Eddie Garcia) from Calexico are all Mexican-American, but other than that there are not too many of us. I like the fact that I am one of the Mexican-American kids in San Diego that is a good wrestler, but I don’t see it as something that separates me from anyone else.”
What does separate him is his success on the mat, but for all his success, Santillan remains humble and well-grounded.
“He is a quiet leader and one that leads by example,” said Tyler. “If the other wrestlers choose to follow him, it is only going to benefit them.”