Enrique Sanchez was all of five years old when his father Elliot introduced his son to the sport of wrestling.
“I was in kindergarten,” the younger Sanchez recalled. “I thought wrestling was the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), so I was glad that he signed me up. He didn’t tell me what it was really like. I was really disappointed when I went and saw that there wasn’t a ring. I asked, ‘What’s happening and what are we doing here?’”
But young Enrique stopped and watched the others who were wrestling in more conventional fashion than what Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage were doing on Monday night television.
“I saw a bunch of different moves and I started learning,” Enrique Sanchez said. “That’s where it all began.”
Sanchez went on to join the Lyndhurst Recreation wrestling program and continued to learn and grow in the sport.
“I started going to (wrestling) clubs, like the Scorpions, and developed into a true athlete in the sport,” Sanchez said.
At the time, Sanchez was a multi-talented athlete in a variety of sports. He was a fine baseball player and actually competed in football, despite his lack of size.
However, the other sports slowly started to wane.
“I knew that wrestling was my strong sport,” Sanchez said. “I wanted to focus on wrestling, so I stopped playing the other sports in eighth grade. The decision was made easier because I was so small. It forced me to concentrate more on wrestling.”
By the time Sanchez enrolled at Queen of Peace in his hometown of North Arlington, he was already an accomplished wrestler.
“My son wrestled with him in Lyndhurst Rec, so I knew who he was,” said veteran Queen of Peace head wrestling coach Scot Weaver. “I have been friends with Enrique’s father (Elliot) for a long time, so I have seen what he’s been doing since he’s a little boy.”
Sanchez wrestled at QP in each of the last two years.
Last year, Sanchez had a fine year competing at 113 pounds, but his season came to a stunning halt in the consolation round at the NJSIAA Region 4 Tournament in West Orange.
“It was a heartbreaking loss,” Sanchez said. “I made one little mistake and it cost me. I should have taken advantage of the chance I had and I blew it.”
But that loss turned Sanchez into a more determined and driven competitor.
“It really motivated me,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t make it to the states (the NJSIAA state wrestling championships in Atlantic City) and I wanted to make sure that it never happened again.”
Sanchez spent all of his days training and working to get better as a wrestler. He spent many hours with Jason Silverstein, the former Purdue All-American who also serves as an assistant coach at Queen of Peace with Weaver.
“He helped me a lot,” Sanchez said. “I don’t know where I would be without him. I put in a lot of time in the offseason to get ready for this season.”
Weaver noticed the change in his wrestler.
“The transition he’s made from last year to this year is tremendous,” Weaver said. “He trained very hard in the summer. He now does things that give opponents fits with his hips and legs. He’s so tough and that toughness goes a long way. Over the last eight months, he’s settled into some really good things. He’s now fundamentally sound or what we say in wrestling circles as ‘solid.’ Enrique is solid.”
Weaver also likes the change in Sanchez’s technique.
“Part of his success is that he’s getting better at positions,” Weaver said. “He’s not rolling around as much as he used to. He’s also defeated some really good opponents.”
Sanchez started the season wrestling at 126 pounds, then moved into the 120-pound role, but is more comfortable and succinct at the 113-pound class that Sanchez wrestled at last year. It has taken some sacrifices on his part to maintain the weight, but now he’s doing so on a regular basis. That determination has paid off.
This season, Sanchez has lost just once in the state of New Jersey, an 8-6 overtime decision to undefeated Mitchell Polito of East Brunswick.
Over the course of the last two weeks, Sanchez has defeated Thomas Kellner of St. Peter’s Prep via technical fall, pinned Ryan Rodriguez of Hopatcong in 45 seconds, won via decision over Joshua Ferreira of Garfield, 5-2, and defeated Domenic DiFrancescantoio of Hanover Park by an 8-4 decision.
For his efforts, Sanchez has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“His performance has greatly improved this year,” Weaver said. “He’s a heck of an athlete.”
“It actually strengthens me when I hear Coach Weaver say things like that,” Sanchez said. “I feel elite. Coming from him, it means a lot, because he’s probably the best coach in the state of New Jersey.”
Speaking about being among the best in New Jersey, Sanchez has earned that distinction as well. He’s currently ranked No. 7 among wrestlers in New Jersey at the 113-pound weight class.
“That means a lot to me, because it means that all the work I’m putting into it is paying off,” Sanchez said. “My main goal is to get to the state finals this year. I have to have the goal of getting there first.”
Sanchez, who holds a 3.3 grade point average, but admits he could even be a better student, hasn’t given much thought to college yet.
“I still have another year,” Sanchez said. “Right now, I’m just concentrating on getting out on the mat to scrap. I am aware that school comes first and wrestling second.”
“His better days are ahead of him,” Weaver said. “But right now, he’s wrestling more like a college kid. He’s getting there. With the right seed and progression, I think we can get him to the state semifinals.”
And whatever happens after that is all on Sanchez, who will lead the Golden Griffins into the NJSIAA Non-Public B state tournament this week, facing Bishop Ahr at home Wednesday night and more than likely a return trip to Wayne and DePaul Catholic Friday night for the sectional title.