Benjamin Franklin’s Luna Tapped into Disappointment to Reach New Level on the Mat

11 months ago Jason P. Skoda 0

Fernando Luna walked off the mat in February with a bit of a limp but what hurt more was the bitter disappointment.

The pain in his right hamstring would eventually subside soon after his junior wrestling season ended at the Division IV sectionals.

Disappointment, however,doesn’t just heal with hungry athletes; it sticks with them, eats at them and makes them better on the other side of it.

“It was a terrible feeling; I couldn’t really let it go,” the Ben Franklin 160-pound senior said.“I just laid on the mat. I knew I had to do something.”

Losing in sectionals as a seeded wrestler and failing to qualify for state didn’t just stay with Luna; it left him searching for answers.

Ever since winning his varsity match at sectionals his freshman season, Luna was driven to succeed, to become a state qualifier, state placer and then a state champion.

And yet none of those goals have happened.

His sophomore year was cut short by ring worm just before sectionals and then last season a strained hamstring robbed him of the ability to shoot and be the explosive wrestler that led to a 34-9 record as a junior after finishing fifth.

“I told my coach (after sectionals) I was going to be a state champion,” he said. “I feel like if you make your goals public then you have to be held accountable.”

So, Luna went to work.

He quit football where he was in line to be a two-way starter for the Chargers. Luna studied videos of some of the best collegiate wrestlers in the history of the sport in Cornell’s Kyle Dake and Penn St.’s David Taylor. He went to wrestling camps at Arizona St.and Northern Arizona, he reached out to other head coaches and asked if he could come into their off season wrestling room.

Luna sought out every top wrestler he could in whatever room he was in at Chandler, Poston Butte and Williams Field.

“He is a hard-working wrestler that truly wants to get better,” Williams Field wrestling coach Travis Fentress said. “He knew by wrestling with kids in our room he would be challenged and get better. Fernando grew a lot as a wrestler over the summer months. I’m sure the time he put in will pay off in February.”

Luna took on Williams Field state champion Nate Smith and former Black Hawk Jackson Gissel, who wrestles for Central College in Iowa.

“I knew they were going to work me at first,” Luna said. “I’d always ask them afterward what I could do to improve. By the end of the summer I was getting in some of my moves and keeping it close. Everything I did over the summer is why I am working everyone now.”

Luna is off to a 23-1 start and has defeated 11 Division I and Division II opponents along the way, including going 8-0 at the Pumas Duals at Perry. The only loss came against Mesa High’s Ali Hansen. Luna was leading, went for a headlock, but Hansen slipped out if it and pinned Luna.

Fernando Luna works on his moves with a teammate.  (Jason P. Skoda)

He has reached a level of competitiveness that is exponentially better than the wrestler he was when he walked off that mat for the last time a season ago.

“This year he has exploded,” teammate and state qualifier Will Crouse said. “We were pretty evenly matched, but at the beginning of this year he has hit a different level.It pushes me. He’s always been a little better than me but now he’s way better than me, so I know I have to work harder.”

Ben Franklin coach Tom Payne said Luna is the epitome of what total dedication and singular focus can do for an athlete.

“Fernando did not give up on his dream to wrestle. He dedicated himself to the off season and dropped out of playing football his senior year to focus solely on wrestling,” said Payne, who added that Luna has a 3.84 GPA. “He looked for every opportunity to attend open mats at any school that would let him attend. He would wrestle five, six days a week in the off season to get better. He is always the first to show up and the last to leave when working on the mat. He is a natural leader and takes responsibility for the team.”

Luna also knows he really hasn’t accomplished anything yet, other than have a great start to his senior year.

There are a few months to go before he gets the opportunity to finally start fulfilling the goals. The ones he set for himself after falling in love with the sport about the same time he got his hand raised for the first time on a varsity mat.

“I want to be a state champion,” he said. “I want to make people see what Ben Franklin wrestling is because no one at this school knows anything about us. We had to pay for our own warm ups; we had to get our own wrestling mat through our boosters. They announce junior high sports in the mornings, but not wrestling.

“I don’t want to do this just for me, but for our school. If I become the school’s first state placer or even state champion others will follow. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve been disappointed at the end of the last two seasons and don’t want to feel like that again.

“I don’t want there to be people better than me in this state. I just keep telling myself there is no stopping me until I get everything I want and worked so hard for this summer.”