Robert Yanez remembers his freshman wrestling season at River Forest like a bad dream.
The program was nearly discontinued because of a lack of interest in the early 2000's and hadn't yet fully recovered. Coach Brian Wesley took over during Yanez's sophomore year and started recruiting athletes from other sports, even if they didn't have a wrestling background. Yanez recruited, too.
"I wasn't really planning on trying to make the program better. I was trying to get more guys," Yanez said. "Wrestling is definitely better now. (Wesley) puts a lot of effort into making the team better."
Yanez was still bringing in wrestlers this year, adding a couple freshmen he said had natural ability.
The Ingots have earned back the respect of the area and Yanez's role in that extends beyond his recruiting pitch.
"He may not be the strongest kid. He's a smaller heavyweight, but he's got quickness and he's not afraid to take a shot that a lot of heavyweights won't take," Wesley said. "He's been wrestling since he was a little guy and he knows what he's doing."
The senior is ranked No. 12 in the state with a record of 27-0 with 26 pins in his first season as a heavyweight. The only opponent he didn't defeat by fall was Calumet's Marshawn Manuel during the Lake County tournament. Yanez pinned Manuel a week later in the Greater South Shore Conference tournament.
"Other kids join wrestling because of Robert, because they see him being successful," Wesley said. "They think 'Why not me?'"
Yanez has come just short of qualifying for state twice, including falling one position short as a sophomore. His goal is to make the podium at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in a month.
"It's a completely different bracket (this year). I've learned to wrestle better and I've beaten state-ranked wrestlers," Yanez said. "I know what to expect."
He would be the first River Forest grappler to make it to Indianapolis since Javier Salas did it in 2003. In 2004, only three wrestlers came out for the Ingots squad.
"Every day I walk down the hall (at school) and see the (River Forest athletic) Hall of Fame," Yanez said. "I read what the other wrestlers have done. I want to be up there."