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Four Pride athletes secure collegiate careers
Three wrestlers and one football player ink LOI
Pride athletes Quentin Hernandez, Cristian Clementi, Gilbert Valadez and Angel Velasquez each sign their respective letters of intent on Tuesday at Pitman High. - photo by CANDY PADILLA / The Journal

Four more Pitman High athletes will soon be joining the collegiate ranks after signing letters of intent on Tuesday. Quentin Hernandez, Cristian Clementi, Gilbert Valadez and Angel Velasquez each put ink to paper in front of friends and family for their individual colleges as Hernandez signed on to play football for George Fox University in Oregon and Clementi, Valadez and Velasquez signed on to wrestle for Grand Canyon University in Arizona, Luther College in Iowa and Northern Illinois University, respectively.

It was the biggest single-season signing group for Pitman’s wrestling program to date.

Velasquez sat amongst his teammates as the highest decorated athlete of the bunch, having recently won the National High School Coaches Association Senior National Championship after placing fourth at the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships for the second consecutive year. Velasquez also won the Sac-Joaquin Section Championship and Central California Conference Championship at 132 pounds in his first year at Pitman after transferring from Modesto High where he won the Modesto Metro Conference Championship at 126 pounds before qualifying for State.

“If I think about my childhood all I think about is wrestling, that’s the first thing that pops into my head … My life revolves around hard work. That’s what’s gotten me this far and that’s what’s going to get me to the next level and really help me excel at the next level,” Velasquez said.

After transferring to Pitman for his senior year, Velasquez was forced to sit out for much of the season due to eligibility review. Thankfully for him, the absence from the mat did not hinder his collegiate dreams.

“I was losing a lot my other offers, but I wasn’t worried about whether or not I was going to wrestle at the collegiate level,” Velasquez said. “Fortunately, I did get to wrestle and I ended up choosing the school that was going to take me whether I wrestled or not.”

Velasquez weighed interest from the likes of the University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Pittsburgh before choosing NIU. He is expected to redshirt his first year before entering the lineup at 133 pounds.

“The guys were cool, the facilities were nice— it just felt like home. I knew it was the place I wanted to be,” Velasquez said.

Clementi will join Velasquez at the Division I level when he makes the move to Arizona. Like Velasquez, Clementi was raised in the wrestling room, making Tuesday a realization of a lifelong dream.

“Since I was a little kid, watching and doing the lights and everything like that, it’s always what I wanted to do,” Clementi said.

Clementi, like Velasquez, also made Pitman his home after a transfer from Turlock High for his junior year. Since the transfer, Clementi has served as a cornerstone for the Pride’s wrestling program and earned the 170 pound CCC Championship in his senior year while also placing 7th in the SJS Championships.

“I feel like if I wasn’t here I wouldn’t be a college athlete, I wouldn’t be signing here and I wouldn’t be doing much of anything,” Clementi said. “I feel like this was the perfect fit for me, right where I’m supposed to be.”

Currently sitting around 170 pounds, Clementi has not been informed at which weight he will be asked to compete once he arrives at Grand Canyon University. Regardless, he’s confident it’s where he’s supposed to be.

“There was just something about the school that’s amazing,” Clementi said. “They’re looking to turn the corner soon and they’re eligible for the NCAA Tournament this year or next year, I believe.”

While Velasquez and Clementi have deep roots in the world of wrestling, Valadez’ wrestling history dates back to only fifth grade. Still, Valadez was a three-year starter with the Pride, during which time he won back-to-back CCC Championships at 145 pounds in his junior and senior years. He also placed fourth at the SJS Championships his senior year and qualified for the CIF State Championships.

“I didn’t think I was going to go to college for wrestling, I thought I was going to do football or something. But I think it was about my sophomore year I said, ‘No, wrestling is my path,’” Valadez said. “I dedicated the next two years to it and I put in I couldn’t even count how many hours.

“This year has been a huge year for me, it changed my whole mindset, really,” he added about his senior year.

Valadez will join a Luther program he has been in talks with since attending one of its camps last summer and is projected to wrestle at 149 pounds with a high probability of starting his freshman season.

“At first I was thinking, ‘Iowa, no. I’m not going to go that far.’ But I went down to visit and I loved it,” Valadez said. “And the program there is up in the race for the national title every single year, the program is really good. I had a good feel with the guys I was staying with, they’re all really focused academically and in wrestling, and they like having fun too. It’s really balanced and that’s my kind of place.”

Hernandez was the only athlete on Tuesday to not be singing to wrestle in college, ironically enough since he was the athlete with the most experience wrestling for Pitman of the group. After beginning his wrestling career as a freshman, Hernandez went on to be a four-year varsity starter for the Pride. But football was always Hernandez’ passion and playing college football has been a dream since he was seven years old.

“That’s what I’ve always wanted to do, to just keep playing football for as long as I can,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez played running back and defensive back for the Pride and earned All-League CCC Honorable Mention in his junior year. Weighing options from the likes of Pacific University in Oregon, Chapman University and the University of Redlands, Hernandez finally landed on George Fox for on the field and off the field reasons.

“It’s a Christian school and I’ve never even been to church, but I felt like it was the best fit for me because I don’t drink, smoke or party or stuff like that,” Hernandez said. “I feel like there’s less of that going on at George Fox University. And the coaches were all nice and they had great connection with each other, which led to great connections with their players.”

Hernandez has been recruited to play running back for the second-year program but is expected to contribute mostly on special teams as a freshman.