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Rod Thornburg / Special to The Californian

Gary Hoetker, a Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame board member, places a medal around Jessie Reyes, one of the newest inductees to the hall of fame.

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Rod Thornburg / Special to The Californian

Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame inductee Jessie Reyes.

Like so many athletes, Jessie Reyes had to battle through adversity before he attained success.

But Reyes persevered and put together outstanding wrestling careers at Bakersfield High and Cal State Bakersfield, and then led Purdue to the most wins as a wrestling coach in that program's history.

Reyes, 53, will be inducted into the Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame on Thursday.

Joining him will be two-time Olympic swimming medalist Larsen Jensen, 13-year NFL linebacker Joey Porter and longtime CSUB soccer coach Simon Tobin.

Tickets are $60 apiece and available at the Rabobank Arena box office and Raymond's Trophies, 300 Chester Ave.

Reyes said he was more interested in boxing growing up and didn't begin to wrestle until he was in eighth grade.

"Once I got hooked, I liked it," he said.

The adversity struck twice at BHS.

"In high school, I was a late bloomer," he said. "I wrestled varsity as a freshman but my sophomore year I got beat out.

"That taught me some humility, that anyone can beat you at any time. ... That helped make me more determined."

It all came together in Reyes' senior yearin 1979. He was 32-0 and had dominated the 127-pound weight class as the Central Section championships approached.

Then it all ended. While at practice during the week leading up to the section championships, another wrestler working out next to him rolled into Reyes, buckling his knee that ended his season.

"It was just one of those things," Reyes said. "There was nothing I could do."

But Reyes didn't let that disappointment bog him down.

"In the long run, it was a blessing in disguise," Reyes said. "When you get kicked in the face you've got to be prepared to get up and take control over the things you can. Like how hard you work out or making sure you're eating right."

Despite Reyes' brilliant senior season, he said he wasn't heavily recruited. Joey Seay, CSUB's head coach, showed the most interest and that didn't diminish after Reyes' injury.

"I just wanted him after I watched him," Seay said. "I was real happy he came to Cal State."

"I was under the radar. Cal State was a natural fit," Reyes said.

CSUB locked up Reyes after Seay went up to the still-injured Reyes at the state meet.

"Joe came up to me and put a (state meet) bracket in my hand with my name as the winner."

Reyes said Seay always cared about his wrestlers.

"A good example was my junior year. I ended up getting my hamstring torn when we were up at Oregon," Reyes said.

"I was in a lot of pain and had to take this pain medication. He stayed in my room to make sure I got that. He would do things like that."

Seay said Reyes relished the competition surrounding him in the CSUB wrestling room.

"He was always good and he just kept getting better and better," Seay said. "We had a bunch of really good athletes that worked hard and wanted to be the best."

Everything came together in Reyes' senior year at CSUB. He went 47-2 and was the NCAA Div. I and Div. II champion at 141 pounds in the spring of 1984, giving him a 151-22-1 all-time career record at CSUB. That's the third-most wins in a season and second-most in a career.

"My senior year there was no doubt in my mind that I could win any tournament just because everything that I needed was there: conditioning, skills, the mental aspect, strength -- it was just making sure I was healthy."

Reyes said he competed at 150 pounds for most of that year, and that paid off when he dropped to 141 for the postseason.

"That helped me. I was fresh all the time," he said. "When you're pulling weight all year long, it has to affect you."

He began his coaching career shortly after that as a graduate assistant at CSUB, but he still had the urge to wrestle. But Reyes had to make a decision.

"It got too much, training and coaching," he said. "I had to either concentrate on wrestling or focus on coaching. I decided on the coaching aspect."

Assistant coaching jobs followed at Oklahoma State, where Seay had become head coach, and later Arizona State and Michigan State. And then the Purdue head coaching job.

"He was one of those guys who understood all aspects of wrestling," Seay said. "He had all the qualities to be a good coach."

From 1992-2007, Reyes' Boilermakers had a 179-120-3 dual meet record with four Big 10 championships. He also coached 16 All-Americans.

"On paper, being the winningest coach at Purdue is a highlight, but more important were the individuals we put out," Reyes said. "Not only the All-Americans but a lot wound up coaching in the high school and college levels."

Reyes also coached the U.S. in national and international competition. In 1998, he led Team USA to a third-place finish at the Junior World Freestyle Championships.

Reyes said he chose to leave wrestling after his final season at Purdue in 2007.

"In coaching, there are only two ways to get out," Reyes said. "You get out when you want to get out or your get out when they tell you to get out.

"I still have passion for wrestling, but maybe getting involved more at the high school level than the collegiate level."

Reyes also faced some adversity before taking up wrestling. He was born in Mexico and moved with his family to El Paso, Texas, when he was 8 or 9, he said. The family moved to Bakersfield the next year. He became a U.S. citizen in 1985.

"I was pretty much raised in Bakersfield," he said. "At first it was tough. I did not know the language, the classroom was tough because I didn't know what they were talking about. But I had a brother and sister in the same situation. We helped each other out."

Reyes' CSUB seasons "were great years," he said.

"The relationships created there are something I'll never forget," he said. "Not only did it give me the opportunity to build relationships, but it gave me the opportunity to get a degree and go into the profession I wanted."