Meet Paco: Colorado Mesa’s unique heavyweight wrestler
His name is Francisco Retana. Call him Paco.
“As long as I can remember I’ve been Paco,” Retana said. “The first day of Kindergarten, my mom introduces me and the teacher asked me my name. I said, ‘I’m Paco.’ My mom looked at me like, ‘What?’ Up until the first day of school I didn’t know my name was Francisco just because my aunts and uncles called me Paco.”
In the fall of 2011, Retana showed up for the first meeting for the Colorado Mesa University wrestling team.
“I go down and take roll then ask who else is here,” CMU coach Chuck Pipher said. “Him and one other kid raised their hand. ‘All right, who are you?’ ‘I’m Paco,’ he said. He was kind of heavyset, but not real strong. I didn’t know if he’d make it the first week.”
Pipher said he had 44 wrestlers in the room that first day and told them he planned to cut down to 40.
“In my mind, I’m thinking Paco is one of the guys we’re going to cut,” Pipher said. “We wound up losing two or three and didn’t worry about cutting to 40.”
One and a half years later, the guy most likely to be cut is a regional champion and NCAA Division II national qualifier.
He is one of five Mesa wrestlers in the national tournament, which begins Friday morning at Colorado State University-Pueblo.
“All I’m thinking about is how I’m going to perform, pretty much,” Retana said. “It’s been running through my head over and over. I’m ready to act on it instead of running it through my head.”
Mesa’s James Martinez, Jon Gappmaier, Chester Granard and Nick Petersen also qualified for nationals.
Retana came to Mesa in the fall of 2011 after a disappointing senior year of high school at Niwot, near Longmont.
“I had injuries and illness. I wanted to give it one more chance,” Retana said. “I figured I can’t end it like this. My senior year it was a bad time to get injured.
“I was looking for a school with a wrestling program and the school was the most appealing. I never talked to Pipher personally, but from what I heard it was a good match, I guess.”
His freshman year didn’t go well. He was 2-8 in open tournaments and redshirted at 197 pounds.
He considered leaving the program and the school and enrolling at Colorado State University, but decided otherwise.
“I was probably unsatisfied with last year,” Retana said. “I had to prove it to myself and others, that’s not how I’m going to be remembered, ‘oh he’s a kid that’s supposed to kick some butt and didn’t place or tried college and ended up winning two college matches.’ “
Retana came back this school year in better shape.
He wrestled some heavyweights in practice, catching Pipher’s attention.
“We talked to him about going to heavyweight and he did,” Pipher said. “He got out there, wrestled and did what he could. Then all of a sudden he had a breakout match. He had the match with Adams State here. Then he beat the Adams kid to win the dual and his confidence went sky-high. That really won the dual for us.”
Retana’s maximum weight this season was 218. He’s been consistently at 216-217 pounds. Heavyweights can weigh up to 285 pounds.
“The way coaches have helped me with scrambles, I feel like I’ve learned a lot,” Retana said. “I have a very unorthodox style. If ever in doubt, just grab (a limb) and pull. I do things they don’t expect. That’s been a lot of my success.”
The redshirt freshman was seeded sixth in the Super Region 4 tournament and faced a daunting task to qualify for nationals.
“At first, I thought I might be out in two matches,” Retana said. “That wasn’t my mindset, but I know the first two guys I could face have beat me before.”
He pinned the No. 3 seed, then pinned the No. 2 seed in overtime to reach the region finals and qualify for nationals.
“After my second match, it took me a while to sink in,” Retana said. “It took me back to my sophomore year (of high school) when I first qualified for state. It took a while to sink in. It’s gratifying to know the risk paid out. It made me feel good about the decision I made.
“I wouldn’t have believed it just because the way things played out, going from 197 to being a heavyweight, getting the starting spot. It’s been a rollercoaster for me.”
Two weeks ago, Pipher introduced the five national qualifiers to the Mav Club members at a luncheon. Pipher mentioned Retana was giving up as much as 70 pounds in some matches.
A few moments later, CMU volleyball coach Dave Fleming brought Retana a second piece of cake, telling Pipher that Retana needed to put on weight.
“He’s unique because he moves pretty well, he’s flexible, he’s long and he’s pretty strong and he goes hard,” Pipher said. “Sometimes the heavyweights are used to going hard like that. The stuff he hits is pretty unique. It’s a weird deal.
“The biggest thing no doubt is his heart. You can take everything, bring any kid in with all sorts of ability. Work ethic and heart, you take that over ability all day long.”
Being a regional champion, Retana (16-21) drew the fourth-place wrestler from another region, Brandan Clark of Kutztown (Pa.), another freshman with a losing record (14-17).
“I must have done something right that weekend (of regionals),” Retanta said. “Especially knowing these are different guys. I feel like I’m going to catch some guys by surprise. I think I have an advantage.”