The first time Erie’s Ramon Salazar put on a singlet, at age 12, he finished his season winless.
That didn’t matter to him. He had fallen in love. Five years later, after much hard work and determination, he reversed those early fortunes into a wave of high school wrestling success.
“We actually had him playing a bunch of other sports,” his father Matthew recalled. “He wrestled a season and he did OK. It was folkstyle and then he did Olympic style. He didn’t win one match. He got beat up that whole summer season and it was really hard on him. And so I asked him if he wanted to move on or just focus on folkstyle, or do anything else. … He was pretty adamant that he wanted to wrestle. He actually didn’t really want to do anything else.”
Matthew showed Ramon YouTube videos of old wrestlers at the Olympics, and he was hooked. From that moment on, he began fine-tuning his craft. It culminated in back-to-back state championship berths just five years later.
Last month, in the 132-pound weight class, Ramon repeated his 126-pound state title from a year earlier when he outlasted Pueblo County’s Izaiah Padilla with a 6-3 decision. He finished his senior season with the Tigers with a 27-3 record.
For that, and his dominance on the high school scene over the last couple of years, Ramon was named the Daily Camera wrestler of the year. He looked to one of his idols, Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young, for inspiration throughout that run.
“The way that RBY said it, Roman Bravo-Young, was like, it kind of meant something to him to win Big Tens for like the fourth time, but it wasn’t everything, because it pretty much went away the next day,” Ramon said. “It’s still important to me and it’s cool that I put my history in the school and that I’m a part of the school’s history now, but the job’s not done.”
After winning his first state championship as a junior, Ramon didn’t celebrate for too long. Instead, he internalized every little mistake he made in that final match to drive him to improve for his last year with the Tigers.
Once he overcame a little self-doubt early into his final season, he was nearly unstoppable.
“I became more controlled and more aggressive in a way,” he said. “It showed a lot more progress because I was actually able to shoot more and attack and stuff like that. (My opponents) basically didn’t know how to really stop me because you can’t really attack something that you can’t really see. I mess with their vision. I snap and I’m constantly faking. Then I just shoot.”
Over spring break, Ramon will take his official visits to the University of Northern Colorado, the University of Northern Illinois and Oklahoma State University to try to decipher where wrestling will take him next.
Once he gets that decision squared away, he’ll continue his work toward the dream that began with a YouTube video five years ago — a shot at the Olympics.
“My willingness to win is taking over more than my fear to lose,” Ramon said. “I want to win more than I care to lose.”