By William Hernandez
After taking two years off from wrestling, 285-pounder, Julian Zuniga is ranked third among all California community college heavyweights heading into this weekend’s South Regionals.
Before landing at East Los Angeles College, Zuniga grew up in nearby Montebello; he graduated from Schurr High School in 2008 where he lettered in wrestling all four years.
At the age of 22, Zuniga has an impressive resume of prestigious individual awards and accolades that he racked up while wrestling at Schurr.
Those accolades include two-time CIF Southern Section Regional Champion, Three-time Almont League Champion, CIF-SS Masters Champion and top 10 finishes in national and state finals.
Zuniga accredits all of his success during his tenure at Schurr to his head coach in high school Wayne Watanuki. “He gave me the ability to push myself. We set goals, and realistically, I give him all the credit to making me the wrestler I am today.”
After high school, Zuniga enrolled at ELAC, but decided that he wanted to get away from wrestling.
“In high school I said that I wouldn’t wrestle in college, but the real reason why I took two years off is because my body gave out on me. My knees were drained, my shoulders had given out, and I wasn’t up to par, so I needed to fix things up.”
Being separated from the sport that brought Zuniga a large amount of glory, Zuniga returned to the mat. He says what brought him back was a certain itch and a supportive relationship with ELAC Head Coach Ralph Valle.
“I’ve always looked up to (Valle). He was always around when I was in high school, recruiting, offering advice on how to attack, where to go, stuff like that,” said Zuniga.
Transitioning from wrestling against high school athletes to collegiate wrestlers has been somewhat of a challenge for Zuniga when also adding in the two-year layoff.
Zuniga spoke on the type of transition from wrestling in high school to going up against college heavyweight saying, “it’s been a big transition, in college you’ve really have to want to wrestle.”
This season Zuniga got the ball rolling in a win against long-time rival Rio Hondo College, when he won by fall in the final round of the match with the team score tied at 19 apiece.
Heading into conference finals Zuniga says he is as confident as ever, but isn’t as focused on individual statistics, but on giving his team the best possible chance to be conference champs.
“I’ve been wrestling for a while and have never won a significant team title. It’s the thing (Valle) told me we could have here when he was recruiting me in high school. I feel like when I can beat anyone in the state, that if I go out there and do what I do, and use everything that’s been taught to me, we’ll be in good position to bring home a title,” said Zuniga.
And he did just that. Zuniga won the Meathead Tournament heavyweight division at Cuesta College beating the No. 1-ranked heavyweight in the state in doing so.
Once the season is finished, Zuniga’s unsure on whether he’ll return for another season. “Once the season is over, I’ll sit down with coach, my parents and decide what’s best for me, because I’m kind of up there in age.”
Looking down the road Zuniga says wrestling isn’t his primary focus, “if the right opportunity comes, and it’s a great one where I’ll be wrestling for a good school then I’m obviously going to give it some high consideration,” said Zuniga.
Zuniga says that his long-term career goals lie in electrical engineering and hopes to soon find a good, stable job.