Feature: Hillhouse refocused in 2013, shooting for national title

Feature: Hillhouse refocused in 2013, shooting for national title

By Dalton Ries, GoThunderWolves.com Insider

Your alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. You wake up and go for a 5-mile run. You eat a jar of baby food for breakfast, then go to class for the day. For lunch you eat another jar of baby food to last you until dinner even though you are about to go to a collegiate wrestling practice followed by a weight lifting session that is designed to keep you performing at optimum levels.

For dinner you get to really spoil yourself: your meal consists of a sandwich and two glasses of water followed by one last run before bed. Sound tiring?  Such is a typical day in the life of the top ranked 125-pound wrestler in NCAA Division II, Jesse Hillhouse (Sr., Casper, Wyo.).

"It feels good being number one," Hillhouse said. "It means all my hard work is paying off. I stayed in Pueblo over the summer to train. I sacrificed having a job so I didn't have an income and had to depend on my parents, so it is just nice to see it all paying off." 

It hasn't always been this grueling for Hillhouse. In fact, he had to be convinced to tryout for his high school wrestling team by a teammate on the football team.

"I spoke to my family about it and we decided it wouldn't hurt," Hillhouse said. "The first varsity tournament came along and I took third place so I thought that this might be something I'm good at. After that, I fell in love with it."

"I'm very self-determined and self-motivated person and I loved that my hard work could show in wrestling more than it could in football because it was one-on–one," Hillhouse said. "I didn't have to depend on 10 other guys." 

Hillhouse ended up winning state his junior year and third place his freshman, sophomore and senior years at Kelly Walsh High School in Casper, Wyo. Recruited by Northwest College, a junior college wrestling power in Wyoming, Jesse was given a shot at collegiate wrestling.

"At first, I didn't even think college was an option for wrestling," Hillhouse said. "Originally I was going to go to culinary arts school." 

The first two years at Northwest were both unlucky years for Hillhouse, who hyper-extended his elbow to finish sixth in the nation his freshman year and then lost in triple-overtime to finish second in the nation his sophomore year. Despite attaining All-American honors with those finishes, those defeats put wrestling in a new light for Hillhouse.

"That made me realize that to be the best, you have to train year round," Hillhouse said. "My first two years at Northwest, I worked hard but usually took the summer off. Losing in the finals made me realize that it's a year-round process."

After his two years at Northwest, he was courted by several Division I schools, such as Arizona State, Virginia Tech, and Boise State, just to name a few. Hillhouse had a decision to make and with the help of his Northwest College coach, who is a CSU-Pueblo alum, Hillhouse set his eyes on CSU-Pueblo where head coach Dax Charles welcomed him with open arms.

"I was coming in with the mindset to be a Division II national champion," Hillhouse said. "I had that mindset regardless of where I wrestled. After losing in the finals, I didn't want that to happen again.

Ranked second in the nation at points throughout his first year at CSU-Pueblo in the 133-pound weight class, Hillhouse went on to finish a disappointing 1-2 at nationals, not placing. The loss upset him and had him fired up going into the offseason.

Entering the 2012-13 season, Hillhouse and Charles had decided to jump down a weight class to 125 pounds earlier in the season.  Thanks to his high credibility nationally, he rose to his current ranking of number-one in the nation, thanks in large part to an impressive showing at the Northern Colorado Open in November, where he won the 125-pound title against largely Division I competition, claiming the Most Outstanding Wrestler award, a rarity for Division II athletes at the tournament.  It marked the third time in CSU-Pueblo history a Pack wrestler had claimed the Most Outstanding Wrestler honor at the UNC Open.

The preseason hype combined with his performance at UNC brought a set of expectations that he hadn't dealt with before.

"I don't feel the pressure," Hillhouse said. "I already felt like I was number-one. I trained like someone who deserved to be number-one and I felt like I was already good enough to be number-one."

So far this season Hillhouse has put his money where his mouth is, holding a 21-3 record, with all of his losses coming exclusively to Division I competition, and he's currently in the midst of a 12-match win streak. He has continued to maintain the number-one ranking in the country and there are no signs of him slowing down.

Another big factor that allows Hillhouse to have fun and be more at east, especially this season, is his faith.  It has allowed him to be different mentally as well as physically.

"I'm more at peace this season, since after nationals last year I was baptized in the Christian faith and after that I just feel more at peace and it has helped a lot," he said.

Discovering religion has also helped Jesse in the mental aspect of his training.

"I always tell myself when I think I'm going to break, that God would not put me through something I can't handle and that usually gets me through the worst of my training," Hillhouse said. 

This is part of the reason why Hillhouse, whose natural weight is 160 pounds, is able to cut weight yet still be so athletic and powerful in his matches.

With goals of qualifying for the Rio de Janiero Olympics in 2016 and the possibility of an MMA career, Jesse's hard work and new outlook on the sport have provided him with opportunities past college that others wish for.

If his determination and dedication have taught us anything about Jesse Hillhouse, it's that you can bet on seeing him succeed in the future.