Pinning down the law

Gabe Flores, senior in LAS, is on the Wrestling team as well as an intern for the University Police Department. Flores poses with his supervising officer Lt. Roy Acree of Gibson City, who is a high school and youth wrestling referee in his spare time. Erica Magda

Gabe Flores, senior in LAS, is on the Wrestling team as well as an intern for the University Police Department. Flores poses with his supervising officer Lt. Roy Acree of Gibson City, who is a high school and youth wrestling referee in his spare time. Erica Magda

By Ryan Dixon

Situational weapons training, handling police evidence and participating in ride-alongs are all part of an officer in training’s daily routine – whether it be before or after wrestling practice. While grappling his way to the No. 8 national ranking at the 125 pound weight class, Illinois wrestler Gabe Flores sought to pin down a different challenge and found it at the University of Illinois Police Department.

Raised in Madera, Calif., by his father, a former high school wrestling state champion, and his mother, a secretary at Central California Women’s Facility, the case could be made that Flores’ passions are hereditary.

Whether it be before or after the Illini’s 3-5 p.m. practices, Flores spends five days a week with Lt. Roy Acree working in the special investigation department training as a University Police intern. Each day, the fifth-year senior must decide to work at the police station from 9 a.m. until practice begins or after practice during the night shift.

Flores aimed to be either a high school coach or athletic administrator early in his college career, but after his first couple years of college, he began considering law enforcement.

Flores’ mother and aunt both work in law enforcement, but he is interested in becoming a police officer for multiple reasons.

“I’m a Division I college wrestler, and I take that into law enforcement,” Flores said. “I think that can be utilized perfectly. I could use some of my stuff and show some of the fellow officers some of the stuff that we do.”

Flores believes it is the time to establish his purpose in life now that his celebrated wrestling career is drawing to a close.

“There comes a time in your life when it’s time to grow up,” Flores said.

“It’s time to mature and go out on your own. I think this internship is helping me grow up a little.”

Wrestling head coach Mark Johnson suggested the internship to Flores and pointed him in the direction of Acree, a huge wrestling fan himself.

Johnson said the internship has benefited his senior wrestler and the attributes that make Flores a good athlete – discipline, dedication and time management skills – will all help him become a good police officer.

“He’s a young man. He’s a little bit laid back, and I think that’s a good thing being a cop,” Johnson said. “I think he’ll be a good one just because he’s Gabe Flores.”

Acree said law enforcement is a constant learning process. Flores’ internship is a basic foundation and will help Flores decide if he wants to pursue a career as a police officer.

The early stages of Flores’ future profession coincide with the tail end of his Fighting Illini wrestling career. Along with the physical abilities Flores has attainted over years of wrestling, he said the discipline it has taught him will be an asset.

“I have a lot of friends that are doing (law enforcement) now,” Flores said. “They still keep in shape. They’re always exercising. Some of the tactics they do, I do a lot of with wrestling.”

Acree recognizes other qualities critical to police work that Flores has acquired on the wrestling mat.

“(Gabe’s) able to communicate really well, and that has a lot to do with being in the limelight all these years as a wrestler,” Acree said. “He is very outgoing, more than willing to talk to anybody out there on the streets, and that’s one of the pluses that he would have being a police officer because he’s not shy. He’s not scared to go up to people he doesn’t know and talk to them.”

Flores agreed that he’s enjoyed the social aspects of his internship.

“The thing that I enjoy the most is the people that work there,” Flores said. “I haven’t met one person there that is negative. They’re really nice. They joke around all day. They’re really positive about things, and they’re really respectful.”

The Illinois senior has learned to balance both the serious and not so serious sides of his life as a top-notch wrestler and a police intern. In the eyes of his teammates, Flores’ sense of humor might ultimately define what type of officer he becomes.

“He’s going to be the guy from ‘Super Troopers’ that’s always messing around and playing pranks on people,” teammate Mike Poeta said. “He’ll have a good time with it.”

Flores’ path to law enforcement was a strongly voluntary decision; however, the same cannot be said about Flores’ initial reluctance to begin wrestling in the third grade.

“When I started out wrestling I didn’t really want to do it,” Flores said. “My mom sort of pressured me into it. She showed me (my father’s) book that she made for him in high school, and he was a great wrestler.”

After an impressive career, it’s no wonder why the Illini’s lone senior starter will miss the mat after the season wraps up.

“Going out and wrestling and then, when you’re done, being able to sign autographs for kids that look up to you as a role model, I think that’s probably the best thing about it,” Flores said. “I’ll miss that the most.”

As much as Flores will miss Illinois wrestling, the program will miss him just as much.

“Just seeing him wrestling out there with the energy he has gets you pumped up if you wrestle before or after him,” teammate Patrick Bond said.

Patricia Flores noted, however, that her son’s wrestling career may be all but over.

“He’s got some great takedowns that he might be able to use for the police department,” Patricia said.

Soon, Flores will focus all of his attention on becoming a different type of role model – one his peers, coaches and friends think will suit him well.

“Not only do I think he would be a good police officer, but somehow, I’d like him stay involved with the sport of wrestling,” Acree said.

Flores thinks for the next five years he’ll remain in Champaign to try and be a police officer for the city or University. In the long run, Flores’ ultimate goal is to be a private investigator and possibly get involved with the FBI.

True to his nature, Flores will not stray too far from his roots.

“I’ll be involved in wrestling for the rest of my life,” Flores said. “This is what got me here to college. It’s my life. I want to be around it for the rest of my life.”