It’s an hour before sunrise. The campus is empty as men slowly enter the room. The buzz from flickering fluorescent lights is the only sound the Santa Ana College wrestling team hears as they warm up. It’s time to work.
The team practices twice a day, from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., then again from 2:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. It’s the life of a wrestler.
Dons’ Head Coach Vince Silva preaches the lifestyle of wrestling. Producing athletes who become self-inspired workout machines is the goal for the coaching staff.
“I can’t force you to do what I ask of you,” Silva tells his team. “I can only share the philosophies, the mannerisms, the attitudes and try to relay them to you.”
Passion is key to being a successful wrestler here. For 184-pound Carlos Arana, wrestling is his life.
“I was born to do this,” Arana said. “From the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed, everything I do somehow revolves around wrestling. It’s a beautiful sport. There are no politics. The toughest man gets the spot.”
In addition to competing for the champion Dons, they are student-athletes. The running, training and mat work is exhausting without the added strain of homework.
“It is time-consuming to go home and do homework or work out again. Sometimes we stay up until 2 a.m., and have to wake up for 6 a.m. practice or a 5:30 a.m. run. It is hard running on little sleep and staying on top of everything,” 165-pound sophomore Aaron Lopez said.
Silva and his assistant coaches recruit a number of wrestlers through a class they advertise to nearby high schools each spring.
“We get a lot of young, aspiring wrestlers from the local community to sign up for our spring course. The class gets them introduced to our system, so after they graduate they come our way,” Silva said.
Silva is in his 11th season as head coach, and has led the Dons to state championships in 2005 and 2009.
He thinks the Dons are ready to win this season. “To win a state championship the stars have to be lined up, meaning everything has to be perfect,” Silva said.