Vega going home to settle an old score

Anthony Maggio

There was no interest. No phone call. Nothing.

The 112-pound two-time Indiana state champion Leroy Vega wrestled his final meet at Portage High School without a scholarship offer from the school he wanted to attend since he began wrestling – Purdue.

“I kind of have a little grudge from back in my recruiting days,” Vega said. “They didn’t recruit me but asked me to walk on. I wanted to go there. My high school coach went to Purdue, so I always wore Purdue stuff.”

But Minnesota offered the three-time all-state selection a scholarship and Vega jumped at the opportunity.

It’s now six years later. On Sunday, Vega will return to the East Gym of his old high school with the rest of the defending national champion Minnesota wrestlers to take on the same Boilermaker squad who had no scholarship for him.

The Gophers also wrestle Friday at Northwestern (7-9, 0-4 Big Ten).

Vega’s high school coach and Purdue wrestling alumnus Ed Pendowski wanted the meet to be moved to Portage. He proposed the idea to Purdue and Minnesota, and both teams agreed.

Vega brings impressive credentials back to his old stomping grounds. He’s a three-time All-American and the second-ranked 125-pound wrestler in the nation.

He does have a tough task ahead of him, however. Purdue (12-3, 2-2) is ranked 15th in the nation and features freshman Chris Fleeger – the third-ranked grappler at 125.

Vega should have the emotional edge in the match, as he expects a throng of his family members to be in attendance.

“My whole family is going to be there, all the way down to my grandma,” Vega said. “Everybody will be there. It will be nice for my family, for the people who don’t get to make it out to all my matches to be able to watch me one last time at home.”

The Boilermakers have three other wrestlers ranked in the top 20, but Minnesota (14-0, 3-0) is riding high off last weekend’s victory over Iowa and it has a 28 dual meet winning streak to keep intact.

But the Gophers look for more than the win.

“Hopefully we can shut Purdue out,” Vega said.

In preparation for its final road trip of the regular season, Minnesota changed up the practice schedule this week.

Instead of the standard 3:00 p.m. practice every day, the athletes divided up among the coaches and have individually tailored their workouts.

“It’s something we started three years ago and it worked really well for us,” coach J Robinson said. “Guys wrestle at different times, they can sleep in, and they might have a night practice.

“It’s good for the coaches too. You get to sleep in; you get to do some things different. So it breaks up your week. You can actually take your wife and go to a movie without having to worry about something.”

Vega is anything but worried about his return home on Sunday. In fact, he hopes to wrestle in top form, thereby giving Boilermakers coach Jessie Reyes something to remember for a long time.

“I’m a three-time All-American,” Vega said. “I hope he’s kicking himself.”

 

Anthony Maggio covers wrestling and welcomes comments at [email protected]