Martin Prieto has just been one of the main reasons Plainview-Elgin-Millville was able to qualify for the state football game in November.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior was one of the state’s most impactful defensive linemen, ending the season with 12 sacks, eight tackles for a loss and 111 total tackles.
PEM did not win this state championship game, losing 28-21 to Dassel-Cokato. But Prieto has certainly done his part. In fact, he set a Prep Bowl record with 24 tackles after being transferred from defensive end to linebacker in the game.
So it’s easy to assume that soccer is Prieto’s No.1 sport and possibly life’s main passion.
Don’t assume. What Prieto likes most is something happening right now.
“I really like wrestling the most because it’s just you there,” he said. “Football is great because of all the teamwork and the bonds you make together. But for me, I like the physique and the courage of the fight. I like it every time you’re on the mat it’s you and only you.
And last, but not the least for Prieto, is the honor enshrined in the fight.
“I love that you shake hands before and after every game,” he said. “It shows humility and respect. It shows that you have to accept defeat or victory. This is why the fight is the best.
Prieto does not come from a family of wrestlers. His parents, Father Javier and Mother Rosa, are Mexican immigrants who arrived in the United States in the late 1990s without even limited knowledge of the sport.
Rosa and Javier have four boys, Martin the youngest. All attended Plainview-Elgin-Millville, and none knew about wrestling until Martin was slapped on the shoulder while in sixth grade by current Bulldogs coach Steve Hinrichs and asked him s ‘he wanted to try the sport.
“Steve convinced me to come out for wrestling,” Prieto said. “But I told him I would do it for a week, not thinking I would stick to it.”
Prieto, also an avid weightlifter since the age of 11 when he struggled to reshape what was then a chubby body and never stopped, has done more than just stick to the fight. It became his benchmark and something he will pursue in college, having already committed to the Rochester Community and Technical College program for next year.
And the Prieto family, they evolved with Martin, all having embraced the sport. Phrases like “one-legged pullback” and “necktie” are now regular inclusions at the dinner table. This is even true of Rosa, who hardly speaks English.
“My mom’s favorite wrestling term is ‘pin’,” Martin said. “She loves that word.”
She especially enjoys it when Martin does the pinning, something he accomplished a lot during his five years at PEM University. It’s been on its way to setting some spectacular records, including a 35-3 record last year.
But there is one thing Prieto did not do while at PEM. That is, qualifying for the state tournament, something he narrowly missed in second year and junior.
He took extra steps last year to finally overcome that bump. This includes participating in the Fargo (ND) National Freestyle and Greco Tournament last summer, a stop that only occurs after wrestlers first progressed in the state of Minnesota freestyle tournaments.
Prieto and the rest of the PEM wrestling squad got off to a late start this season. This was due to the Bulldogs football team’s prolonged success. Their competitions were also slow in coming when a recent snowstorm called off a tournament in Wisconsin.
So, Prieto’s first real action came December 17-18 in what most consider the toughest tournament each year in the state, the Minnesota Christmas Tournament at the Rochester Regional Sports Center.
Out of a packed field of 36 wrestlers in his 195-pound weight class, including many from other states, Prieto finished eighth.
Prieto didn’t like his show and he didn’t hate it.
“It was a tough start, but it was great to see this kind of competition from the start,” he said.
Prieto hopes this will help him end his high school career on a high note. There is one obvious thing he wants to accomplish, and that is to qualify for the State Tournament in early March.
Not having arrived there yet weighs on him. But it also serves as inspiration.
“Being so close to the start was painful,” Prieto said. “But it also gave me a boost on my shoulder and helped me keep working hard, keep working on my craft and do whatever I can to raise my level of play. don’t want that to change. Every day I want to show at least 1% improvement.
And if a state trip doesn’t happen for Prieto this year, one thing is for sure. He will return to the circle after his last match and reach out to his opponent.
There is honor in it, and humility. It keeps this son of Mexican immigrants coming back for more.