After backing up one of the best wrestlers in the nation at his weight class, former Rochelle Township High School standout Eddie Villalobos is ready to prove himself when the enters the mat for the North Central College Cardinals next season.
A two-sport athlete who played a scout-team role for North Central’s NCAA Division III National Championship team, Villalobos traded his football cleats in for wrestling shoes during the winter, competing at 149 pounds. The RTHS alum recorded his first collegiate win during the Al Hanke Invitational at Elmhurst College, where he went 1-2 over three bouts. North Central went 12-4 over 16 dual matches, finishing ranked eighth in NCAA Division III.
“It was a great experience and my teammates made me feel like a brother right away, even though I joined more than halfway through the season due to football,” Villalobos said. “I enjoyed the grind and I enjoyed practicing with the coaches and our seniors and seeing what it takes to be a national champion. My role was to come in and practice hard every day and help my teammates get better in the mat room.”
Villalobos, who arrived at North Central College as Rochelle’s first-ever three-time IHSA state qualifier, will be one of 10 freshmen eligible to return to the Cardinals next season. North Central will graduate nine seniors including starting 149-pounder Anthony Rink, ranked No. 10 in NCAA Division III, and 141-pounder Marc Fleenor. Villalobos, who’s currently majoring in management, will be aiming to fill one of those roles next season.
“We practice Monday through Saturday and every practice is very intense,” Villalobos said. “I felt like I became stronger on top but I think I can improve everywhere including my feet, my stamina and working on bottom.”
North Central finished second in the CCIW Conference Championships this season and fourth in the NCAA Division III Lower Midwest Regional Championships. Villalobos, who went 3-3 over six total matches this year, said he’s undecided on continuing as a two-sport student-athlete.