LONGMONT -- Fernando Ramos-Vega didn't have a very good freshman season last year with the Longmont High wrestling team. He wasn't good enough. That wasn't good enough.
Ramos-Vega began his sophomore year, the 2012-13 season, on the Trojans junior varsity. But the bitter memory of his frustrating freshman campaign drove him to strive for improvement during the nine months between seasons.
Now entrenched in the Trojans' varsity lineup, Ramos-Vega has put together a 19-6 record this winter and has been ranked as high as 11th at 160 pounds in Tim Yount's On the Mat rankings.
"I had a hard time my first year and I wasn't very successful," Ramos-Vega said. "I just wanted to be better so I tried as hard as I could, went to as many camps as I could, just practiced and got more mat time. I've been really successful this year."
He's gone from junior varsity to varsity, from varsity status to statewide acclaim in a short time. But nothing has come easily for Ramos-Vega, and it won't get any easier for him when the Trojans compete in the Class 4A Region 2 tournament this weekend at Frederick HS.
After losing a wrestle-off to teammate Ivan Wolf, who at the time was ranked eighth at 160 while Ramos-Vega was ranked 12th at the same weight, Ramos-Vega will be forced to move up in weight to wrestle at 170 at the regional tournament. Rolling with the punches as he has over the past year, Ramos-Vega has gone 7-0 since moving up to 170, where he is currently ranked 14th.
Undersized at 156 pounds, Ramos-Vega said he has adjusted quickly to the different style in the higher weight class. Since the Trojans have ranked wrestlers in weights all around Ramos-Vega's, he gets plenty of work at practice. He wrestles his brother Jaime Ramos-Vega, who is ranked ninth at 195 pounds and Forrest Wetterstom, who is ranked No. 3 at 182 pounds. He even wrestles heavyweight Chris Palacios, ranked 12th, from time to time.
"I get to wrestle the toughest kids in the room and some of the toughest kids in the state," Ramos-Vega said. "It helps me a lot because in the situations I'm in when I'm out there on the mat, I know what to do already."
Trojans head coach Adam Keiswetter said Ramos-Vega hit a turning point when he realized he could compete at the varsity level after placing eighth in a 64-man bracket at the University of Northern Colorado tournament in December.
A solid defensive wrestler who maintains good positioning, Ramos-Vega is hard to take down. Despite being undersized, Keiswetter said Ramos-Vega's height and length will be his greatest assets against the larger opponents.
"He's just as tall as these guys and they still can't get to his legs," Keiswetter said. "His length helps him, not just in leverage, but keeping them away. Defensively, Fernando is just so hard to score on."
Keiswetter said the main things that separate Ramos-Vega from other wrestlers is his work ethic and desire to be better. The 15-year-old sophomore gets some of that from his older brother Jaime, who is a junior and qualified for state last season but lost in the first round to eventual 195-pound champion Dwight Howes from Arvada.
Watching last year's state tournament from the stands, both Ramos-Vega brothers decided they wanted to be a little more involved in 2013.
"They were both like, 'Next year, that's gonna be me out there,'" Keiswetter said. "I said, 'Hey, we have a camp in the spring.' Every practice we had in the spring, those guys were there and working hard."
Switching from a three-month season to a year-round training regimen, the Ramos-Vega brothers have built-in work out partners in each other.
They started out bitter competitors but the Ramos-Vega brothers have bonded over their recent success on the wrestling mat. Now they wrestle to improve one another and not try to send each other to the hospital.
"At first we didn't get along when we wrestled each other to start the season. We would end up with bloody noses and things like that," Jaime Ramos-Vega said. "But now, we've just learned to work together and push ourselves to the limits because we want to see each other succeed."
Fernando Ramos-Vega wasn't satisfied with his performance as a freshman and set out to do something about it. He did.
If Fernando Ramos-Vega can do a thing or two at regionals, he'll be on the mat at the state tournament on Feb. 22 where he and the Trojans believe he deserves to be.
"I can't wait to wrestle some good guys out there," Ramos-Vega said. "I'm gonna get some hard matches but I'm just gonna give it all I got."
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