Wrestling remains a sport where the elite stand out at a young age, and then dominate throughout their career. But Borah’s George Barrera took a different route.
The Lions’ heavyweight always showed potential, but he started to realize it last year, and then took it to the next level this winter. He entered the 18th annual Rollie Lane Invitational as the top seed in his weight class and rolled through the first day of the tournament with a pair of first-round pins.
“He really does strive to be dominant out there on the mat,” Borah coach Justin Gardner said. “He wants to get after it, he wants to attack you, and he wants go and have fun with it.”
That wasn’t always the case. At the pleading and insistence of coaches throughout the Treasure Valley, the 6-6, 275-pound senior turned out for his first club wrestling season last spring. He ended it with an eighth-place finish and All-American status at the Junior Greco Nationals despite never competing in a Greco-Roman match until the opening round of the tournament.
He admits that nerves got to him as he walked up to the center stage for his first Greco match. He didn’t enter the tournament willingly, but former Boise State coach Chris Owens paid his entry fee, so he couldn’t say no.
The confidence he gained with an All-American finish in a foreign discipline carried over into the high school season, where his brute strength, deft positioning and intense drive have him 19-1 entering the Rollie Lane quarterfinals against Bonneville’s Joel Bowman (12-3) at 9 a.m. Saturday at Nampa’s Ford Idaho Center.
“I’m really used to being super nervous, and that all sort of went away last year. And (in the) spring, it was gone,” Barrera said. “Now it’s no nerves, nothing in my stomach.”
Wrestling isn’t the only sport in which Barrera has proved a quick. He turned out for the Borah football for the first time as a junior and earned second-team All-Idaho honors as a defensive lineman as a senior. He holds full-ride offers from Idaho State and Portland State.
College wrestling programs also have begun inquiring of the late bloomer, but no one has extended an official offer yet.
“Who knows which we way he’s going to go?” Gardner said. “Not many kids get that opportunity for two different spots coming out of high school, and he does.”
He’s found few challenges on the wrestling mat so far this season, finishing 12 of his 13 contested matches with a pin. While his early run and offseason accolades make him the Rollie Lane and state tournament favorite, he’s still searching for his first big tournament title.
He finished third at district and state last year, and then took third at the Reno Tournament of Champions in December, falling to the country’s second-ranked heavyweight in the semifinals. The most prestigious tournament he’s won so far was last year’s Red Halverson at Minico.
But Barrera’s horizon doesn’t stop at Rollie Lane. He’s set goals for the rest of the season.
“It’s important, but I just want to win this, go on to the next tournament, win that, go on to the next tournament after that,” Barrera said. “I just want to knock them down.”
THREE-TIME ROLLIE CHAMP IN SECOND
Post Falls trails Oregon’s Crook County 122.5-110.5 atop the team standings after the first day of the tournament. But the three-time defending Rollie Lane champion remains in strong position with 10 wrestlers alive in the quarterfinals. Crook County has seven left in the championship bracket.
Post Falls also has two wrestlers from its “B team” in the quarterfinals.
Columbia stands as the top Treasure Valley team; the Wildcats are in third place with 98 points. They have five wrestlers still in the title hunt: Angel Rios (132 pounds), Andy Lopez (132), Kekana Fouret (145), Luis Cervantes (170) and Skyler Hughes (220).