CORONA – Jesse Vasquez had just risen when two visitors arrived at his family’s home in a gated community in the Corona hills.
It was 10:30 a.m. on a recent weekday. This was an hour-long photo shoot. Later he’d lift. Then train. Then run some errands before traveling to Lake Havasu the next day. He could be excused for being weary. Not engaged.
Except he wasn’t. To Vasquez, 19, it was another opportunity to explore. Soak up knowledge. Improve himself before he sets off for Arizona State University in August and all the wonders that await.
MORE: IE Varsity 2020 Athletes of the Year
“What have you been reading?” Vasquez asks a visitor more than four decades his senior. “I’ve been reading Dean Koontz. And Tim Grover (a motivational speaker) and “The Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell – it talks about why people are successful.”
Vasquez, muscular and handsome, is obsessed with success. The quest for knowledge has suited the former Excelsior Charter wrestler well so far. He was a four-time CIF-State wrestling champion and California’s Dave Schultz Excellence award winner. He has the full ride to ASU. And this IE Varsity Small Schools Athlete of the Year honor is just the latest in a seemingly endless stream of plaudits.
His goals? Vasquez wants to win NCAA titles, world championships and wrestle in the Olympics. He also wants to make a billion dollars! He’s stated all of these things at various times during a glory-soaked senior year.
“Do you like Stephen A. (Smith)?” Vasquez asks, referring to the ESPN sports analyst. “I respect his grind. I’ve watched some documentaries on him, and his work ethic is unmatched. People may not like him, but they’ve got to respect him. And I like his delivery – that shows that he cares about his job, cares about what he does.”
Vasquez has now shed any pretense of sleepiness and is on his game. He’s changed from his morning attire to a pale blue and white Excelsior Charter wrestling singlet. And he’s posing for the photographer, acting like he’s about to battle some Central Valley brute.
Click. Click. Click. The camera fires away, capturing Jesse Vasquez – one of only four wrestlers in California state history to win four state titles and the only Southern Californian to accomplish the feat. But he’s more than just a wrestler, and Vasquez wants everyone to know it.
“I been really on Tupac (Shakur) right now,” Vasquez announces. “I been doing a bunch of research on Tupac. I never was really into that kind of rap or anything.”
Click. Click. Click. The photo session continues, as Vasquez pivots around in his bare stocking feet.
“You got all the equipment, dog,” Vasquez says to the photographer. “That’s some crazy stuff.”
Vasquez is a straight-A student. Whip-smart and with an active mind, he constantly generates topics of discussion. Offers opinions. He also cares about children and society.
“Has he always been like this – been so inquisitive?” his mother Addie is asked.
“He’s always had so much curiosity,” she said. “He wants to learn. He thinks that’s how people get smart – by knowing what other people do.”
Addie, a native of Mexico, told a story about her son going for an eye test and quizzing the optometrist about how he can improve his reading.
“The doctor said, ‘You have a really smart boy. I’ve never had a teenager ask me those questions.’”
The photo session continues, and the energetic teen decides it’s not lively enough for him.
“Let’s get it bumpin’ in here,” he says, and he skips up a flight of stairs to grab his Smart phone and some speakers. Soon he’s bopping to a promising hip-hop artist, Xavier Hndrx, who he met while attending Corona Santiago High. Both boys transferred to the Corona campus of Excelsior Charter. (Xavier’s real last name is Luitui).
Asked later, by email, what he was listening to, Vasquez said, “My brother from another mother, Xavier Hndrx. I played every song that’s released on his SoundCloud. My brother and I are makin’ it to the top. (Fixing to) take over. This ain’t comin’ from a cocky perspective. This is coming from confidence in our talents. We know what God possessed us with and we makin’ the best out of what we got. Wrestling is only one dimension of my life.”
It’s hard to doubt Jesse Vasquez. He hasn’t been wrong yet.