Illinois brings in 12 new wrestlers headlined by Armstrong, Delgado

What a difference a year makes.

Last August on his 18th birthday, 125-pound freshman Jesse Delgado was excited to begin his career at Cal Poly.

Fresh off a fourth-place finish at the 2010 California state tournament and an NHSCA Senior National title, Delgado was prepared to begin his legacy on the collegiate level. Even though Delgado was a redshirt for his first season at Cal Poly, that did not stop him from succeeding.

Delgado went 21-1 in open tournaments during the 2010-11 season, including a tournament victory at the 2011 NWCA National Collegiate Open. Delgado was anticipating his chance to possibly be the starter at the 125-pound weight class during the 2011-12 season. Then everything changed.

“Every single coach that I signed with when I went to Cal Poly left,” Delgado said. “There was a 125-pound volunteer coach, he left. A heavier weight coach, he was like an older brother to us, Tyrel Todd, he left, (co-head coach) Mark Perry left and then the head coach John Azevedo retired.”

Following Perry, who signed on as the Illini’s associate head coach, Delgado made the decision to transfer to Illinois, along with ex-Cal Poly teammate and 141-pound freshmen Tucker Armstrong. Both of them have high expectations for themselves and the team.

“I think (my expectations) are the same as everyone, to be a national champion,” Delgado said. “That’s something we’re looking forward to. We have a really young team this year; we’re looking like we could be good.”

“I’m very excited,” Armstrong said. “It’s gonna be a long road and the Big Ten schedule is pretty tough, I feel great now.”

Armstrong won the Ohio Division II state championship at 125 pounds in 2008 and placed second at 140 pounds in 2010. Armstrong, like Delgado, redshirted during his freshman season. Armstrong battled through knee injuries for the majority of his redshirt season. After Illini great Jimmy Kennedy graduated last season, Armstrong is confident the vacant 141 spot will be his.

“I wouldn’t come if I didn’t think I could (start).”

Armstrong had different reasons than Delgado for transferring to Illinois.

“My decision was to come closer to home,” Armstrong said. “I’m from Ohio, I wanted to come back to the Big Ten and the Midwest where wrestling is pretty big and I thought I could come here and accomplish my goals and graduate college so that’s why I came.”

Illini head coach Jim Heffernan couldn’t hide his excitement for his young group of wrestlers.

“I think from what I’ve seen so far, I think they all got the right type of attitude,” Heffernan said. “The desire to be on a championship team, and the other thing is they’re all committed to getting degrees and doing the right thing so from my perspective those are all very good things.”

Heffernan specified the incoming transfers as key to the team, which adds 12 new wrestlers.

“More than anything I wanna get a handle on the two transfers,” Heffernan said. “Jesse Delgado and Tucker Armstrong, two guys that made a huge commitment to the program by transferring here and following Coach Perry, which I think will really help us.

“Both are very good kids, have had a lot of success in the past and I think where they fit in our lineup could really make an impact on us too.”