The Grandview sophomore created a buzz around the prep wrestling world with his jaw-dropping winning move Dec. 16 in a quarterfinal match at the Reno Tournament of Champion.
Santillan’s cartwheel takedown of Pomona’s Colton Yapoujian in the final seconds made him a viral video sensation and delivered a win that helped propel him to winning the 120-pound championship at the renowned tournament, featuring 104 teams from across the country.
“I have an arsenal of moves to try to win a match when I’m down,” Santillan said. “Me and my drill partners always try new things. When we worked on that move last year … I told myself it’s something you only pull out at state when you need it.” Trailing Yapoujian — Colorado’s top-ranked wrestler at 120 pounds by On the Mat — in the closing seconds, Santillan dialed up a move that many in the prep wrestling world had never seen before.
Knowing he wouldn’t have time for a regular shot against his outstanding opponent, Santillan planted his right hand on the mat and cartwheeled into Yapoujian, grabbed him around the waist on his way down and put him on his back as time expired.
Grandview coaches in the video jump up and down as he is awarded two points for a 3-2 victory, while Pomona’s corner argued the takedown came too late.
Along with many in the crowd watching the match, Wolves coach Ryan Budd couldn’t believe his eyes.
“I’d like to say it’s one of those things that we taught him, but it’s not,” Budd said. “It’s just one of those things where you reach down deep inside and find something you need … I can’t believe he did that and he did it to a nationally ranked kid, too.”
Santillan heard the crowd reaction, but his first immediate thought afterward was that he’d earned himself at least a top-four place. He went on to do even better than that, as he got another late takedown to win in the semifinals and then rallied for a 15-7 win over Ian Timmins of Wooster High School, a hometown favorite.
Trailing 4-0, Santillan put Wooster — who came in ranked No. 12 in the country — on his back three times on his way to a 15-7 victory. He was voted Most Outstanding Wrestler for the tournament.
“It’s finally sunk in, like ‘Wow, I won a national title.’ I realize there is a lot of stuff I need to improve on, but this has pushed me to work even harder.”
Santillan’s older brother, Armando, did some battling of his own, as he rebounded from a first-round loss to win eight straight matches and take fourth at 132 pounds, while seniors Tyler Ross (182) and heavyweight Gabriel Baumgartner each placed eighth.
Budd said the Grandview coaching staff thought a 17th-place finish would be satisfying for the team, but the Wolves (34th last season) far exceeded that by taking eighth out of 104 teams. It was easily the program’s best finish in several years of going to the Reno tournament.
The Wolves have risen to No. 4 in On The Mat’s 5A team rankings and will have the state’s attention for the rest of the season.
“We were pretty much under the radar until the state tournament last season, but now we have that bullseye on us and people know who we are,” Budd said. “I think our kids know this is a great accomplishment, but it’s not the end all, be all. We know we have to work even harder now, but as coaches, we are so proud of them.”
Grandview’s results further cemented Colorado’s strong showing at the tournament, which saw Pomona win the team championship, while the Panthers’ Theorius Robison (132 pounds) and Ponderosa phenom Cohlton Schultz (220 pounds) also won their respective weights.
In other significant Aurora wrestling results before winter break, Hinkley senior Serj Chavez (145 pounds) and Smoky Hill senior Ryan Campbell (heavyweight) placed eighth at the 63-team Northern Colorado Christmas tournament at Budweiser Events Center in Loveland and Cherokee Trail swept its annual Holiday Duals.