Prep Wrestling: Herrera tips scale in his favor
Smithsburg senior gains wins after significant weight loss
Smithsburg's Saul Herrera, top, wrestles Williamsport's Brandon Iseminger in a 285-pound bout at a recent dual meet. Herrera pinned Iseminger for one of his 26 victories this season. (By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer)
The Smithsburg senior has become a standout wrestler for the Leopards with a 26-3 season record in the 285-pound weight class.
It might seem hard to believe that Herrera didn’t even begin wrestling until his junior year. And it’s perhaps even more difficult to imagine that he weighed more than a hundred pounds more as a sophomore than he does now.
“I was close to about 400 pounds,” he said. “It was crazy.”
Back then, as a 10th-grader, Herrera was just “the big kid” who tagged along with his cousin David Crown, who was a senior middleweight on the Smithsburg wrestling team.
Herrera became fascinated with his cousin’s sport and landed the role as Leopards team manager.
“His cousin was on the team, and he was interested and hanging around,” Smithsburg wrestling coach Joe Dietrich said. “I said, ‘Why don’t you become a manager because we don’t have one?’ And he was awesome at it.”
“I just watched and learned,” said Herrera, who soon decided that he’d like to do more than just keep stats.
He wanted to join in the action on the mat.
“Halfway through, I just decided that I wanted to wrestle, just watching my cousin and everyone else and seeing how fun it was,” Herrera said.
But there was one big problem. He weighed nearly 400 pounds, and the heaviest of the 14 weight classes in high school wrestling is 285 — a weight he hadn’t been since sixth grade.
Herrera became determined to shed pounds from his 6-foot-2 frame, something he’d put off doing for too long. He began exercising and cutting back on what he ate, especially dairy products and meats, he said.
“I’d always thought about losing weight, but I never did anything about it,” he said. “I just never had high enough motivation to do it.”
While he finally was inspired by his desire to compete, he knew slimming all the way down to wrestling weight would be a monumental task.
“At first it seemed impossible,” he said. “But once I started gradually losing weight, I just started working harder at it.”
When Herrera returned to the Smithsburg wrestling team as a junior, he was a new man, ready to wrestle — as the scale would prove.
“He came in and said, ‘I made it,’” Dietrich said. “And I said, ‘Great, let’s go.’
“But it took him some time to pick it up because he’d never done it before, and he struggled a bit.”
He maintained his weight at 282 pounds for most of the season and finished with a 10-20 record.
While just making it onto the mat was a major accomplishment in itself, all things considered, Herrera wanted to do more than just participate. He continued to work, soaking everything up like a sponge as he went.
“Obviously, that weight loss is phenomenal,” Dietrich said. “But the other big thing is that he’s one of those few kids who when you teach him something, he gets it. He’s smart, really intelligent, and he’s strong.
“He came back this year and made it all work.”
Herrera, who now weighs 267 pounds, is tied for the Leopards team lead in victories this season with 26, including 13 pins. His goals include winning a weight-class title at the Washington County tournament this Saturday and then earning a berth at the Maryland state tournament.
Most importantly, Herrera now carries himself with confidence. He has the self-assurance and poise that come not only from being a good wrestler, but from the hard work and dedication it took to transform himself into one.
“I feel a lot better,” he said. “I have a lot more energy and can do a lot more stuff. I can go places without people staring at me.
“How I used to look, it just felt weird. Everybody just called you ‘the big kid’ or ‘the fat kid’ and it’d get to you sometimes.”
It’s hard not to root for Herrera.
“A lot of people are happy for me,” he said. “They understand what I went through.”