MADILL — Under the bright lights of Jim Norick Arena, Rio Zamora's prolific high school wrestling career at Madill came to a close.
MADILL — Under the bright lights of Jim Norick Arena, Rio Zamora’s prolific high school wrestling career at Madill came to a close.
For the third straight year, he left the big house without the trophy he’d been chasing ceaselessly since middle school.
Zamora — now a redshirt junior entering the 2018-19 season at University of Central Oklahoma, one of the most successful programs in all of college athletics — still has his eyes on the one that got away.
Zamora put in some preparation toward that goal this week at the Madill Wrestling Complex. Unfortunately for Madill Wrestling coach Jim Love, the Broncho wrestler doesn’t have another year of high school eligibility up his sleeves.
Instead, Zamora got some coaching reps, giving his knowledge and passion for the sport that’s brought him joy, anguish and a college scholarship to area wrestlers at the 2018 Madill Sandbass Festival Wrestling Clinic.
Useful experience for the 5-foot-7, 141 pound grappler who, in addition to bringing the Bronchos a pair of national titles after 2020, looks to continue his wrestling career in Oklahoma coaching at the high school level.
“To go back and coach it’s not a job to me,” Zamora said. “It’s my dream. I know the salary isn’t great, but it’s not about the money, it’s about how you enjoy life. I want to have the same impact on kids’ lives that my coaches had on me.”
Since 2014, Zamora has coached at the clinic in Madill.
He plans on coming back next year, too.
“I’ve always tried to give back, I love it, coaching these kids and helping them get through it,” he said. “I’ve been there. I was that kid not long ago.”
Like some of the kids who came to the clinic without experience, Zamora’s life in wrestling started on a basketball court at the Madill middle school gym.
“I was an awful basketball player to start out with, I was really short,” Zamora said.
“One day, one of our wrestling coaches came in the gym and asked if anybody wanted to go wrestle. I rose my hand. Eight years later, that’s what I’m doing.”
While he may not have had the height for baseketball, Zamora quickly showed his talent on the mat at Madill.
He finished his high school career with a 100-26 record and placed twice at state as a three-time state qualifier.
His senior year, Zamora earned All-District, All-Conference, and All-Area before signing with UCO to become the first wrestler to continue their career on scholarship in 12 years.
The sport changed his life, and made him the man he is today, Zamora said.
But for the first ime in his wrestling career, Zamora has been sidelined with a serious injury.
In January, Zamora tore his ACL during a match against University of Nebraska Kearney.
Six months later, Zamora said his knee is in good shape and he expects to be ready for his junior campaign.
But rehab is a first for Zamora, and he said it’s been hard taking it slow and not training like he has four the past eight years following surgery to repair his knee.
On Thursday, Zamora said he had to fight every fiber in his body telling him to get on the mat and show kids the proper technique first-hand.
“I had to catch myself,” Zamora said. “It’s my first instinct to just get on the mat and do it. Coach Love had to tell me to slow down and be careful a couple times.”
After being redshirted, Zamora went 15-8 at UCO as a freshman, capturing the title in the Oklahoma City Open and earning four major decisions in a backup role for the Bronchos.
This past season, Zamora was above .500 as a starter wrestling at 141 pounds, before he was sidelined by his ACL injury.
Despite being in uncharted territory, Zamora said he’s no stranger to adversity in wrestling and expects to be back at 100 percent come the 2018-19 season.
In high school, Zamora said he had a history of overcoming disappointments and fighting back, year after year. It’s what made him who he is today.
“[Wrestling] developed me, it made me a better person,” he said. “I see life differently. They say once you wrestle everything else in life is easy. It’s taught me everything I know.”
Madill coach Jim Love said the clinic has been a teaching opportunity for everyone for both the kids and Zamora over the past four years.
“For the kids at the clinic, it’s a chance to learn how to wrestle, but for the Rio it’s a chance to teach,” he said.
Love said he’s seen Zamora’s potential and passion for wrestling grow since he got the Madill coaching job in in 2011.
He said he has no doubt that the Madill standout will have success as a coach.
“He’s got it,” Love said.
The admiration is mutual.
Zamora said one day, he hopes he can follow in Love’s footsteps.
“I aspire to be like Coach Love,” he said. “He is great. I’ve learned a lot over the years from him. He has kept up with me through the years, he’s always there. That’s what you need in a coach, someone that can push you and has your back when you need them.”