‘I just got tired of it’: Southeast Polk’s Nate Jesuroga explains why he’s done wrestling

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

Nate Jesuroga nestles into a corner table at an Altoona Starbucks, right by the window, allowing the sunlight to shine on his cauliflowered ears. He wears a Billabong shirt and a soft smile. He is relaxed, at ease — and enjoying it.

“I’m doing good,” he says. “Really good.”

It’s a Monday in late March, more than a month after the state wrestling championships were held downtown at Wells Fargo Arena. Jesuroga, a senior at nearby Southeast Polk, was expected to be there competing for his third individual state title.

But Jesuroga, one of the nation’s brightest young mat talents, did not wrestle at all this past season — and on this day, in a sit-down interview with the Register, he explains that he has no plans, currently, to wrestle again.

“I just got tired of it and wanted to do something else,” Jesuroga says, matter-of-factly.

Southeast Polk senior Nate Jesuroga, pictured here before FloWrestling's Who's Number One event in September, did not wrestle during the 2022-23 high school season, and currently has no plans to wrestle again.

The short answer, Jesuroga says, is burnout, and there really isn’t a longer answer to go with it, mostly because he is naturally a man of few words, but also because, in his mind, there isn’t much else to say. He has already moved forward.

But he understands why people are curious, which is probably why he agreed to sit down and talk, well after the high school season ended and more than a week after the college season wrapped up.

More:Meet the All-Iowa wrestling award-winners for the 2022-23 Iowa high school season

Jesuroga made this decision a few months ago, he says. He can’t recall the exact moment he started to feel this way. He just woke up one day and didn’t love the sport in the same way. Sometimes it’s that simple. He only just turned 18.

“There was a point where I really, really loved it, like it was an obsession,” Jesuroga continues. “I still think it’s a cool sport. But I’m just not that into it anymore.”

Wrestling is huge here in Iowa, of course, and Jesuroga’s obsession made him a star. He wrestled with a vicious combination of heavy hands and tenacious technique. Coaches and teammates called him a pitbull with an endless gas tank.

His résumé became legendary: a Cadet world bronze medalist, a Junior national champion, a Super 32 champion, a two-time state champion. He finished his high school career with a 120-3 record, according to stats kept by Trackwrestling.

Jesuroga led Southeast Polk to the 2022 traditional state team championship and the 2020 state duals crown. He played a starring role in Team Iowa winning the Junior National Duals in both 2021 and 2022. He was considered a blue-chip prospect, and had committed to wrestle for Tom Brands and the Iowa Hawkeyes.

But then … 

“I don’t know why it was so sudden,” Jesuroga says. “I had never thought about not wrestling, but then one night, I just decided that I didn’t want to do it.”

More:Our way-too-early preview for the 2023-24 Iowa boys and girls high school wrestling season

His last match was in September, at FloWrestling’s Who’s Number One event, held in Michigan. He lost a thriller to Pennsylvania native Jax Forrest. Jesuroga rallied from down 3-0 to tie the match 7-7, but Forrest prevailed 8-7 thanks to riding-time.

Shortly after, Jesuroga suffered a concussion while at practice, which freaked him out, he says. Constant migraines and headaches that lingered even as he eased back into a preseason routine. It frustrated him, so he took more time off … and enjoyed it.

Jake Agnitsch, Southeast Polk’s head wrestling coach, convinced Jesuroga to practice for the first couple weeks of the season, just to see. Agnitsch previously told the Register that Jesuroga looked great physically, but could tell something was up between the ears.

After two weeks, Jesuroga told Agnitsch that he didn’t want to wrestle, that he just wasn’t into it, that he wanted to be done — and that was it.

“We love him and support him and wish him nothing but the best,” Agnitsch told the Register.

Jesuroga holds no ill will toward any of his coaches, at Southeast Polk or at Sebolt Wrestling Academy, where he trained with many of Iowa’s best high-schoolers. When he told his coaches and parents of his decision, they were surprised, he says, but they supported him.

“We enjoyed having Nate as part of our club, on and off the mat,” T.J. Sebolt, SWA’s head coach, added separately. “Our love and support will continue for him in whatever path he chooses in the future.”

Jesuroga followed the Rams all season. He came to various tournaments, dual meets, even the state duals championships in February. His younger brother, Justis, was a freshman this past season. Went 34-15 and took seventh at 120 pounds at the state tournament, a key part of Southeast Polk’s runner-up team finish in Class 3A.

Emptying the notebook:What we learned from Iowa high school state wrestling tournament

But he also thoroughly enjoyed not wrestling. For the first time in probably a decade, his days weren’t regimented by practices and workouts. He’s up to around 150 pounds now — he wrestled at 120 last July — and exercises on his own time. His mind and body have healed. He’s found an inner-peace that he couldn’t always find on the mat.

“I’ve been liking not wrestling,” Jesuroga says. “I’ve been liking looking forward to something else.”

Jesuroga will graduate this spring, then head to boot camp in June. He’s signed up to join the Navy, he says. Wants to go into special operations. He’s excited about the opportunity to chase something new and different.

Southeast Polk's Nate Jesuroga (red) wrestles California prep Aden Valencia in the finals of the UWW Cadet freestyle world team trials. Jesuroga beat Valencia, two matches to none, to make the 2021 Cadet world team at 51 kilograms (112 pounds).

But he knows wrestling will always be a part of him, too. His ears are a dead giveaway, for one, but he appreciates the larger life lessons he learned throughout his competitive career.

“Wrestling taught me to work hard and how to perform at a high level,” Jesuroga says. “I’ll use that and always remember that, no matter what.”

After more than an hour, Jesuroga rises from the corner table and heads toward the exit. The gym he works out at is right up the road. He hops in his Honda Accord and wheels out of the parking lot, relaxed, at ease — and, most important, doing good. Really good.

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at@codygoodwin.