Hispanic Heritage Month: Q&A with Indiana head coach Angel Escobedo
by Joe Wedra, USA Wrestling
Photo of Angel Escobedo by Indiana Athletics.
As a part of USA Wrestling’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we continue to spotlight Hispanic leaders and members of the wrestling community who have made an impact both on and off the mat. This week, we talked with Indiana University head wrestling coach Angel Escobedo to discuss many topics, including how he views his role as a Hispanic leader in the sport.
Escobedo has been the head coach at Indiana since April 2018. The Gary, Indiana, native spent three years on Iowa State’s coaching staff from 2015-2017. He was a 2008 NCAA champion at Indiana and represented Team USA at the 2013 World Championships in Budapest, where he placed fifth. He is Indiana’s only four-time All-American.
Below, Escobedo talks about how his cultural experiences have helped him build the program at Indiana, how the sport of wrestling provided him with opportunities and more.
On his Hispanic heritage and the importance of family:
“For me, my family was really important in my success. We are a Mexican family, and traditionally and culturally, Mexican families, we all stick together. We all grew up together, so we were all around the same area in Gary, Indiana. We all kind of helped each other out. I had five other cousins wrestle Division I. That was all because we all wrestled together, traveled together and practiced together. We really did everything together, and that’s just culturally what happens.
“That was a big part of it. Now as a coach, it’s helped me show how important family and support is. That’s what I want to give my guys. I want to give this team the same support and same sense of family. So, I’ve been able to cross that over from my personal experience to my coaching experience.”
On how his experiences have helped shape the day-to-day program at Indiana:
“We just talk about being there for your teammates. We talk about loving them, supporting them and how important that is. Family is supposed to be there in your hardest times. It’s easy to love somebody during a good time. But, the hard times, it’s where you really have to love somebody. That’s where family really comes through. It’s all about creating that bond where you actually get to know somebody.
“I tell my guys this all the time: you really have to invest in someone else. Sometimes, you don’t get to pick your family, but you can get to know them. And once you know them, you can get to support them on a different level. And once you care about them as a person, that will bring you closer. We talk about that. You have to get to know your teammates and understand where they are coming from so that way you can meet them in the middle.”
On what is like to be a Hispanic member of the wrestling community, and how important it is to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month:
“I really think that representation matters. Just having people in leadership and recognizing them, what they’re doing, what they’ve been through and now where they are, that can give inspiration for young kids who might need that. It’s really important. I think in this sport, we might not see a lot of Hispanics out there, but there are and there have been a lot who have had success. So, if we continue to push that out there, it can branch out to the Hispanic heritage that wrestling is a great thing. You can invest in it and do well.
“I think for any race, any heritage, this is a great sport because anyone can be successful. I really value trying to represent people who look different and who have succeeded and telling their stories.”
On how the sport of wrestling provides opportunity to so many:
“It’s truly amazing. I traveled internationally, have been to so many countries, and to see so many different backgrounds and cultures, it was the best experience. I value that part of my wrestling career the most. It taught me that anyone can wrestle no matter what situation you’re in. It’s an easy access to just roll around and get into a wrestling room. You can even roll around outside. If you look back in history, people have been wrestling forever. It may look a little different, but it’s just natural instincts…
“Just with seeing that, it’s really cool because you’re starting to see different countries in this world pick it up and they are being successful. You don’t have to be a dominant country with all of these resources to win a World medal or even travel to the World Championships. It’s so cool because everyone is now getting the experience to be around other cultures. We’re all coming together, and that’s what it’s all about.”
On his advice to those who look up to him:
“My biggest message is, for me personally, wrestling is a sport that taught me how to do the right things off the mat. I am a faithful man, and I think my faith lines up with my wrestling. The discipline behind it and all of the important characteristics that you have to live by to be a champion in the sport, they’re also life lessons. Even though this is just a sport, I think some of the things I gain in my training, winning and losing, it’s helping me as a father, a husband and a coach.
“I would say even though it’s hard, stick with it because it’s worth it. Whether you become a World champion, an NCAA champion, a state champion, or even just wrestle, you can still gain valuable experience by sticking with this sport.”