DENVER — From the time that Fabian Santillan walked into the Grandview youth wrestling program at the age of five with his two brothers, Ben Menzor saw the potential.
Menzor, an assistant with the Wolves’ wrestling program, recalled that there was something a little different with Santillan’s mental approach. At the time the club had three levels, and Santillan wanted to wrestle in each of them, even though physically he wasn’t ready.
More than a decade later, Santillan is a defending state champion looking to close his high school career at Grandview with a second consecutive title. But even bigger things await, with the senior headed to Stanford in the fall to wrestle for the Cardinal.
“It’s just such a cool thing, to develop a kid from five years old to where he’s at now, as a legit D-1 wrestler. I’m proud of him,” Menzor said. “More than anything I’ve ever done, it’s what he does. It’s his work ethic.”
Santillan kicked off his final state wrestling tournament Thursday night with a 17-1 technical fall victory over Northglenn’s Angel Alvidrez at 138 pounds. He notched five near falls and ended the match early in the third period with a reversal.
“I wrestled from my positions, positions I knew I could win,” said Santillan, who faces Pine Creek’s Brayden Roman in Friday morning’s quarterfinals. “When I do that, I always feel really good.”
It has been quite the journey to this point for Santillan. After placing fourth as a freshman, a knee injury sustained during his sophomore year just two weeks before regionals sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
That made Santillan worked even harder going into and throughout his junior season. He finally climbed to the top of the podium after a 4-1 decision over Adams City’s Nicholas Gonzales.
“The thing people don’t know, is he’d never won a state title, not even in youth. But he was always close,” Menzor said. “He’s always grinding, always close. Not being able to get to that final as a sophomore was devastating on the one hand, but on the other hand he really went to work (last) year.
“It was emotional for me because I’ve coached him since he was five years old, since he first came in the room.”
The opportunity to attend an Ivy League school had been the goal from the time Santillan was able to even think about college.
Princeton was recruiting him, but after Santillan made his visit to Stanford, there was no doubt where he was headed. Santillan said he’s interested in either the life sciences or computer science, but for now he’s focused on wrestling.
“He’s destined for such great things beyond just wrestling,” Menzor said. “He willed himself there, he really did. He willed himself to where he’s at now.”
Wrestling has been a family affair for Santillan and his brothers. His older brother, Armando, is a sophomore at the University of Northern Colorado; younger brother Alejandro, a junior at Grandview, won his first-round match Thursday night at 126 pounds with a 15-1 major decision.
Fabian and Alejandro are two of a contingent of nine Wolves competing at Pepsi Center this weekend.
The Wolves, who were in second place after Thursday in the 5A team standings behind Pomona, have never won a team championship. Menzor said the closest he could remember the team coming was in 2008, when Grandview placed third with 89 points.
Last year the Wolves scored 98 points but finished sixth overall.
Santillan said this tournament is even more special because Grandview has a chance to do something great as a team. For Menzor, Santillan represents that opportunity.
“This is the best team we’ve ever had since I’ve been there, and I’ve been there 13 or 14 years now,” Menzor said. “He’s the leader of that team. More than just mentally, it’s how he drills in the room. It’s not just the rah-rah stuff; he does it by showing it.
“I make my little kids watch him work out … I make the 6-year-olds watch him. I say that’s what it looks like – if you want to get to the next level, that’s what it looks like.”