Isaiah Quintero is El Dorado’s ‘Mighty Mouse’

The chance to win the game was a few yards in front of us, the end zone beckoned, seconds left on the fourth quarter clock.

A few points behind under the lights on October’s Friday night, a game against Canyon shifted into the stuff of dreams, Placentia El Dorado High coach Zach LaMonda turned to the smallest kid in the huddle.

“Can you put the ball in?” LaMonda asked Isaiah Quintero. “It’s the only chance we have.”

That chance was in the hands of a player standing every 5-foot-4. A kid whose dad thought he’d play cool football for a year before giving up the game because of his size.

But he answered LaMonda’s call.

“I can do it,” he told his coach. “I guarantee I can do it.”

He took the handoff and charged forward, breaking through the goal-line plane to give the Golden Hawks the game-winning touchdown. It was the crowning moment of a nearly 1,000-meter season.

His teammates and rivals might be two heads taller or two torsos broader. In truth, it doesn’t matter who’s up against Quintero, a running back and state champion wrestler for El Dorado. He will fly around her. Drive through them. outwit them.

“I always believe that no matter what, I’m one of the best guys on the field and even on the mat,” Quintero said. “You have to when you’re a smaller guy like me.”

Step one to smaller dude dominance: keep moving.

“I know I’m not going to run over people,” Quintero said. “I must be somehow more shady than everyone else. You have to have more vision, more IQ than some people just to get through the season.”

When Quintero started wrestling at the age of 4, his father put him down. It wasn’t playtime, Father pleaded. The kid took it seriously. He would hop on his tiptoes at meetings for hours, waiting for his turn to pin someone.

The suggestions would come. Sit down. Eat something.

nope He would bop. He would pace. He would jump rope.

If “we went to an arena or a gym,” his father Gilbert Quintero III said, “everyone might point to him.”

As he got older, he waited for a growth spurt that never came. So he had to adapt and turn his hyperactivity into activity. He gets up at 6am in the summer to shadow box in the garage and trains two or three times a day.

The cardio made him a formidable wrestler, competing in national tournaments before he got into high school, Quintero III said.

“If you stop moving in a wrestling match, there are openings…but he just keeps pressuring people,” said Nate Do, a friend and wrestling teammate from Quintero’s last season.

In football, Quintero never expected to get a college shot at the El Dorado. With a cute smile and curly black hair, he resembles a middle school student more than someone who rams opponents. Kids who wrestle and play football in high school are usually in the upper weight classes — they’re not 5-foot-4.

But he had a natural outburst, LaMonda said, and was named a full-time varsity starter after week 5 of his sophomore year. He had four touchdowns in El Dorado’s 3-0 start this season.

“He’s the toughest guy I’ve ever trained, pound for pound,” LaMonda said.

As he ran across the El Dorado lawn after a scrimmage this summer, Quintero’s feet went back and forth and danced back and forth.

To keep moving.

Step two to smaller man dominance: stay confident.

“That’s when I feel most dangerous when I start to think I’m the best,” said Quintero.

But it was sometimes difficult to keep that belief. He would think his size wasn’t enough, his father said. Think he wasn’t enough.

His grandfather, Gilbert Quintero Jr., consistently encouraged that confidence and rarely missed a game or match. He always told his grandson he was number 1. But in August 2021, Quintero Jr. passed away after a battle with cancer.

“It was tough,” Quintero said, “knowing your best friend won’t be there.”

In January, Quintero injured his back at the Buchanan wrestling tournament in Clovis and failed after reaching the quarterfinals. When he got home, he was shaken, his father recalls. Quintero didn’t know if he could win the state, he told his father. Didn’t know if he could. Maybe he shouldn’t.

“Are you crazy?” said the father to his son. “You are awesome.”

That winter, Quintero poked his way through the league championships and into the state tournament. He clinched the state title in the 106-pound division in February and won the 113 class at the Nationals in Virginia Beach in March, sparking widespread interest in the NCAA Division I.

“He easily beat some of the best guys in the country,” said Quintero’s father.

With each match, Quintero crosses himself or points to the sky, a message to his grandfather. His voice still echoes in the back of Quintero’s mind: He’s the guy.

His grandpa was himself vertically challenged. He was nicknamed “Mouse”. So Quintero adopted his own nickname, wrote it on a piece of tape and taped it to his shoes before each game:

“Mighty Mouse.” Isaiah Quintero is El Dorado’s ‘Mighty Mouse’

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