Two years ago, Isaiah White and Jason Renteria were teammates on the wrestling squad at Oak Park and River Forest (OPRF) High School in Chicago, Illinois.
After a year apart, with Renteria finishing his senior season and White competing at Division II powerhouse Notre Dame College, the two recently completed another season on the same team, this time as Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Their respective journeys to this point were nothing short of a rollercoaster—full of ups and down, twists and turns—but neither White nor Renteria would change a rail.
“I’m glad that I’m here,” Renteria said prior to last week’s NCAA Championships in Cleveland, Ohio. “I really love my coaches, and really love my friends that are here. It’s kind of like a family now.”
The paths they took allowed them to continue a friendship they consider to be more like a brotherhood.
White, now a sophomore, and Renteria, a true freshman, first became teammates near the age of seven during their first years of elementary school. As the years went on, the trophies and championships piled up.
During each of their three seasons together at OPRF, both wrestlers advanced to the state finals match. White claimed individual titles in 2014, 2015 and 2016, while Renteria won in 2016. He would also win an individual title in 2017.
OPRF won the state team title all three years that White and Renteria were teammates, too.
White’s bumpy road to Lincoln started right after high school. After initially making a verbal commitment to Ohio State over Nebraska and Minnesota, he ended up at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. White did not gain approval from Ohio State’s admissions.
He was the top-ranked wrestler at 152 pounds in the class of 2016, according to FloWrestling.
During the 2016-17 season at Notre Dame College, White boasted a 28-2 record on his way to a Division II national title at 165 pounds.
While White was starting his first year of college, Renteria, then a senior at OPRF, was going through the recruiting process, trying to decide where he wanted to continue his wrestling career.
He was ranked at the seventh-best wrestler at 132 pounds by InterMat.
Rentereia committed to Iowa in October 2014, but decommitted in July 2016, and reopened his recruitment.
I've thought from Day 1 Iowa was a good fit for me. However, things weren't able to work out. I appreciate the opportunities they gave to me
— J-Rent (@JasonJayzilla) July 6, 2016
“Literally less than 12 hours after I tweeted that I was no longer trying to attend Iowa, (Nebraska assistant) coach (Bryan) Snyder was at my door,” Renteria said.
Renteria’s new list of top schools included North Carolina, Nebraska, Missouri and Penn State.
One month after decommiting from Iowa, Renteria verbally committed to Nebraska.
I will be taking my athletic talents and academics to the University of Nebraska. Edit skills by @theblackcard125 pic.twitter.com/PRl0GbxHof
— J-Rent (@JasonJayzilla) August 29, 2016
Although Renteria was impressed by the fact that Snyder was at his door shortly after his decommitment, he always knew Nebraska wanted him. White told him so.
Nebraska Coach Mark Manning asked White about Renteria during one of their first encounters.
“Isaiah was on me even before I committed to Iowa,” Renteria said. “Isaiah was like ‘C’mon, you got to check it out. I know you haven’t signed anything yet. Just come down here. They want you.’”
Despite Renteria being on board to go to Lincoln, White still hadn’t decided where he wanted to transfer. After taking another visit to Nebraska, he had no doubt it was the place for him.
White announced his transfer to Nebraska in May 2017.
Manning even used Renteria as a selling point when White made his second go-around in recruitment.
“That’s always helpful when you have a guy on your team who is a high school teammate or someone you really know well from your area,” Manning said. “I think the good Lord was looking out for us to get both those guys.”
After all of the changes and redirections, White and Renteria eventually became teammates again. It’s allowed their brotherhood to grown both on and off the mat.
White said their close relationship allows them to be honest with each other instead of holding back. Renteria feels the same way.
“If I wrestled bad, he’s going to tell me right away,” Renteria said.
With White having already completed a year of competition at the college level before Renteria, he was able to share a few pointers for the freshman.
“He told me certain things that he thought I needed to work on coming into college,” Renteria said. “You just got to stay physical is what he told me. Instead of in high school where you punch him in the mouth once and he steps down, you just keep punching him in the mouth.”
During their many years as teammates, they’ve learned from watching each other compete at a high level.
White has learned to always be aggressive and tough during a match.
“He’s a mean dude on that mat,” White said of Renteria. “I used to be mean like that, but I kind of went away from it. So, watching him wrestle sometimes really brings me up a little bit.”
One thing Renteria has learned is to not pay attention to everything else that is going on and focus solely on his match.
“Even when we were in high school, we’d be at the biggest high school tournament and he’d still act like it was just practice—not being caught up in all the drama,” Renteria said of White.
The two also hold each other accountable to certain things off the mat. For Renteria it’s making sure White is keeping his grades up, and for White, it’s making sure Renteria is controlling his weight.
Renteria had issues with his weight this past season. He didn’t start competing until after Christmas break. When he was in the lineup, he was a threat. Renteria won his first collegiate match with a first-period pin fall against Danny Bertoni of Maryland on Jan. 7. His next two wins were against top-20 opponents.
At the Big Ten Championships, Renteria advanced to the semifinals before finishing in fifth place, earning him an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships.
However, Renteria’s struggle to control his weight came back. He was disqualified from competition after failing to make weight prior to the first matches on Day One.
Manning said after the national tournament that he knows Renteria can be a champion; he just needs to grow and mature.
“He has a lot of talent, but at this level it’s about doing things right all the time,” Manning said. “You got to do a great job with your weight management and he hasn’t taken care of that aspect. We can lead the horse to water, but we can’t always make them drink.”
As for White’s first season at the Division I level, he finished 22-6 and advanced to the Round of 12 at the NCAA Championships, one win shy of All-America honors.
He nearly advanced to the semifinals, but lost in sudden victory-2 to the eventual national champion, No. 3 seed Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State.
“Isaiah White I really feel for,” Manning said, “because I could really see him being in the NCAA finals.”
Both wrestlers will be back next season for Nebraska with their sights set on making the podium, perhaps even standing at the top. They’ll push each other to be better, to be more disciplined, because that’s what friends—or brothers—do .