Jacob Fernandez had barely landed at Merced College in January after a year studying and wrestling at Modesto Junior College, when his education plan turned on a dime. The 2017 El Capitan High graduate thought his athletic career was done, so he came home to save money, work, maybe start a business degree. Eventually he found out the College would field a wrestling club starting in 2019-2020. Once here, Fernandez earned another shot at wrestling glory, a four-year college athletics scholarship and the motivation to take his academic career further. Here the soon-to-be Wheeling (W.V.) University Cardinal shares the journey through Merced College that will take him across the country, well, just as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes.
Why did you decide to attend Merced College?
“I knew I was going to start at a junior college. It’s my local school, but I wanted to wrestle so I started at Modesto. Either way I knew I would get two years of school for free. The money situation did play a role. A bunch of my co-workers with the moving company had kids that went to Merced College. Plus all of my friends were here and were trying to get me to join them.”
What was your career plan when you came to the College? Did you even have a plan?
“I didn’t really have a plan. I just wanted my business degree. Then, mainly, I was trying to get a real estate license. I haven’t finished that yet, but that was what I was doing before I chose to go to Wheeling. Right now I’m finishing up my transfer credits.”
That’s kind of a quick left turn. Explain how your plans changed.
“I’ve known Coach (August) Wesley at Wheeling University for a little bit. He had tried when I was a senior at El Cap to get me to go to a community college in Kansas where he was coaching, but that didn’t work out so I stayed in California. I wrestled one year at Modesto, then was still there the following fall, thinking I was done with wrestling. Then I found out Merced College was gonna have a club team. A few of my old teammates from El Cap—Kyle Lee, Josiah Araujo—were gonna be on the team and were encouraging me. I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll go one more time.’ I knew I couldn’t do it halfway. I had to commit to it. But I ended up representing the Blue Devils at the National College Wrestling Association tournament in McAllen, Texas. I was 2-2 there at 174 pounds. A couple of weeks after that, I was at a car dealership here in town when Coach Wesley called and offered me a scholarship. It shocked me. He’d watched my film from nationals. I thought I was done with wrestling, again, and then I’m getting a scholarship offer to an NCAA Division II school. Yeah, it’s a pretty big come-up. I’ve never even been to West Virginia.”
What was your best non-academic moment at Merced College?
“The best moment would have to be the times I got to hang out with my friends after wrestling practice. Like one day in particular, I had been hurt a few times, but it was a day I wasn’t feeling any pain. My weight was coming down. It was just a good day.”
What was the biggest lesson you learned during your time here?
“Never stop working there’s always something to learn or to achieve.’ It doesn’t have to be about wrestling or academics. It’s about life. When you do something new, everything you learn is a win. Sometimes it’s hard to learn new things, but just keep working. There’s always more work to be done. I went from not placing at a tournament at the beginning of the wrestling season to placing second in the conference tournament, and then qualifying for nationals. And all of that has given me a chance to earn a four-year degree on scholarship.”
Finish this sentence: Without Merced College I wouldn't have . . .
“ . . . had the chance to further my education and wrestle at a national wrestling tournament.”
I am going to put you in charge of producing a commercial pushing the College to incoming freshmen. What is your message?
“Merced College is the opportunity that you’ve been needing and searching for. There are so many great things that you can figure out that you wanted, or didn’t even know you wanted, at Merced College.”