The road to becoming the fourth North Bergen High School wrestler ever to secure the impressive 100-win milestone was not an easy one for senior Julian Quintero.
In fact, Quintero has had to overcome his fair share of adversity in his life as a wrestler in order to reach the prestigious plateau, which he attained last Saturday by winning via a pin in a dual meet against Hackensack.
Quintero was always thought to be a rising star in the North Bergen Recreation junior wrestling program. At an early age, he was destined for stardom because he was a dedicated wrestler, a talented mat performer with an unconventional approach.
“He was highly touted coming out of the recreation program,” said North Bergen head wrestling coach and athletic director Jerry Maietta. “His freshman year, we had a lot of seniors on the team, but he still became a varsity starter for us and worked all the time with Bobby Dabal [the three-time NJSIAA place finisher and school’s all-time victory leader]. He had a great freshman year and was a District 16 champ for us.”
But after his freshman season, Quintero decided to transfer out of North Bergen and join the fledgling program at Queen of Peace in North Arlington. However, after only a few months at QP, Quintero experienced a change of heart and came back to North Bergen, never wrestling at his new school.
“He just felt like he wanted to come back,” Maietta said.
As a sophomore at North Bergen, Quintero faced his first taste of adversity. While competing in the George Jockish Bergen County Holiday Tournament finals, Quintero suffered a serious shoulder injury.
“I wanted to wrestle in the finals, but I saw the bone sticking out of my shoulder,” Quintero said.
The result was a dislocated shoulder, a separated clavicle and torn ligaments in the shoulder. It should have been enough to end Quintero’s sophomore year before it began.
“I think I was more disappointed that my season could have been over,” Quintero said. “I didn’t think of the pain right away. I was told that I was out for the season.”
However, somehow, Quintero made a miraculous return right before the season ended. He won 17 matches and captured his second straight District 16 championship and added a Region 4 title as well, earning a berth to the NJSIAA state tournament for the first time.
“I somehow came back,” Quintero said. “I don’t know how.”
Quintero eventually had to undergo major shoulder surgery after the season was completed. While rehabilitating the shoulder injury in May of 2009, his second dance with adversity took place.
Quintero was innocently walking along a North Bergen street, wearing his iPod and heading to his home around 5:30 p.m., when he was approached by three men he did not recognize. He was viciously attacked and beaten, causing Quintero to suffer a broken jaw.
He was not robbed and he did not provoke the attack. North Bergen police never apprehended the three men who maimed him and changed his life.
“I didn’t know who they were and I just got hit when I wasn’t looking,” Quintero said. “I got hit from behind. I just figured I had to be more aware of what I was doing when I was walking.”
Quintero’s jaw was wired shut for almost a month. During that time, he lost a significant amount of weight and training time.
“That was the worst,” Quintero said. “I had to sit around on the couch and do nothing. I felt like everyone was passing me up. I lost so much weight that I just deteriorated. It was bad enough I had the shoulder surgery, but this was worse. It was one thing after another. All I kept thinking about was how I was going to get back.”
Quintero wasn’t saddened about his fate and didn’t let it stop him. A lot of other athletes might have become a little leery about heading back out to face the unknown.
“I never put my mind to it,” Quintero said. “There was nothing I could do about it. I never let it affect me or what I was doing. After it happened, I was just so fired up to come back. I tried to use that as extra motivation to come back. I always had to go through some adversity, ever since I was a little kid. This was nothing new.”
Last year, Quintero made a triumphant comeback, winning his third straight District 16 title, losing to eventual state champion Frank Cagnina of Queen of Peace in the Region 4 finals, but then bouncing back to finish seventh in the state at 130 pounds.
This season, Quintero has won 19 matches, including the historic 100th win of his career, joining only former state champion John Bott, Mike McNeil and Dabal as Bruin grapplers to win 100 or more matches in his career.
For his efforts, Quintero has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“It’s a great milestone,” Maietta said. “It’s a milestone that any wrestler would love to achieve. We knew early on that the potential was there. After all he’s been through, I’m glad that it could all come together. He had to deal with adversity, a school change, injuries. It’s good that he remained focused. It’s definitely pretty amazing he was able to reach 100 wins.”
“It was something that I always knew I could accomplish, but after what happened to me, dreams do start to disappear a little,” Quintero said. “I knew that I had a chance to get it. I’m glad that everything fell into place for me and all the hard work paid off.”
Quintero has been invited to participate in the prestigious New Jersey All-Star Invitational talent showcase Sunday at Brick Memorial High School. Quintero is slated to face Luis Felipe of Long Branch in the event.
Quintero, one of the top ranked wrestlers in the state at 130 pounds, is making plans for eventually making another trip to Atlantic City, but this time, he has higher goals.
“I don’t want to leave high school losing my last match,” Quintero said. “I feel so strong now. I’m in the best shape of my life. I never felt more ready.”
“He’s very dangerous,” Maietta said. “He’s a little unorthodox in that he can take you down with the legs, then throw you as well. He’ll go upper body and at the same time, attack the legs. He’s real explosive. I think he’s ready to stand much higher on the podium in Atlantic City. He’s working hard and wants to win. He’s putting in the extra time that he needs to do to win.”
However, winning is a rarity for Hudson County wrestlers. There have been only two in history – Bott of North Bergen and David Cordoba of Kearny. A lot of others have come close, like former workout partner Dabal. Kevin Innis of St. Peter’s Prep went to overtime in the state finals last year before falling two points shy. It’s a tough mountain to climb.
“But I want to win the state title,” said Quintero, who also trains with the Scorpions Wrestling Club in Fairfield. “It’s all I think about.”
Quintero knows that this is his last go-round in wrestling, already having committed to attend Full Sail University, a Winter Park, Florida-based school dealing with digital art and computer aviation simulation, in the fall.
“This is it for me,” Quintero said.
After all he’s been through, it would only be fitting if he was standing atop the podium in Atlantic City come mid-March. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.