Trae Vasquez has maintained one goal since he began wrestling at age 4 — to one day be a Division 1 wrestler.
Now, after a senior season stolen by injury and a topsy-turvy recruitment, he is set to make that dream a reality.
Vasquez, an all-state athlete in three sports at Flathead High, on Monday pledged to continue his wrestling career at California Polytechnic State University, or Cal Poly, beginning this fall.
“It’s a big weight off the shoulders,” Vasquez said. “I’m getting the best of both worlds. I’m going there, getting a world-class education, while also being able to do something I love, and that’s wrestle at the D1 level. That’s been the dream of mine since I was 4 years old.”
Vasquez became the second Flathead wrestler to commit to a Division 1 school in the past two weeks, joining Tucker Nadeau, who will attend West Virginia.
“It says a lot about the Flathead wrestling program, not only producing high-school wrestlers, but giving these athletes opportunities to wrestle in college and continue their passion,” Flathead wrestling coach Jeff Thompson said.
Vasquez, who will wrestle in the 133-pound weight class for Cal Poly, says he fell in love with the school almost immediately when he visited two weekends ago. First and foremost, he was impressed with its glowing academic reputation.
“I’ve worked my butt off all through high school to maintain a 4.0 GPA, and I was really pushing to go to a school that had the highly prestigious academics,” said Vasquez, a 4.0 student who plans to study kinesiology. “I can only wrestle for so long.”
Vasquez was also struck by the natural beauty of the area surrounding Cal Poly, which is tucked in the rolling hills of San Luis Obispo, California, just 15 minutes from the Pacific Ocean.
“Sunny and 75 the whole year,” he said. “The area is just so unreal and beautiful. It honestly kind of reminded me of home.”
Vasquez’s attention to other details, however, did not distract from his athletic mission — to find a place where he could not only wrestle in Division 1, but have an opportunity to meet loftier goals, as well.
While visiting the campus, Vasquez said he “instantly made a connection” with head coach Jon Sioredas, who is entering his third season at the helm, and believes Cal Poly is a place where he can blossom as a wrestler.
Rich Vasquez, Trae’s father and personal coach, concurs.
“Trae has goals of one day making a world team or an Olympic team,” Rich said. “Cal Poly has a regional training center in place. Their new coaching staff is outstanding. Everything you need to be successful in college wrestling, they’re doing.”
The Mustangs’ roster featured only one wrestler at Trae’s weight last season, a shortage that could afford him an opportunity to get on the mat early in his collegiate career.
Vasquez will also enter the next phase of his career with a chip on his shoulder.
Stanford, West Virginia, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Air Force and others expressed interest in his services, but many backed off after Vasquez suffered a ghastly knee injury during his senior football season.
He’s now out to prove to those schools — and himself — that the injury will not keep him from success at the next level.
“It’s kind of crazy the way things work sometimes,” Vasquez said of his wild recruiting ride. “I’ve always said to myself that I can wrestle with the best, and I’ve proved that.”
In addition to his wrestling accomplishments, which include two individual state championships and an appearance in the quarterfinals of the USA Wrestling Nationals last year, Vasquez was an all-state defensive back and high jumper while at Flathead. Rich Vasquez said, if anything, Trae is better than ever since returning from the injury.
“He’s faster than he was before the injury,” Rich said. “His shots are faster, more explosive.
“Physically, he’s beyond what he was when he got hurt. Now, it’s just the mental part of it and the timing (Trae needs to regain).”
Outside of athletics, Trae serves as Student Body president at Flathead.
He was fully cleared from his injury last Monday. He’ll return to competition in June at the Western States Championships & Turf Wars Duals in Pocatello, Idaho, compete once again at the USA Wrestling Nationals in July and report to campus in late August.
“I’m just grateful to be here,” Vasquez said. “Being able to completely, 100 percent focus on wrestling is going to be a huge advantage for me. I just feel like my potential is through the roof.”