FRESNO, Calif. – Ask Stephen Abas what stands out the most from his time wrestling at Fresno State and he will give you a one-word answer.
“DeLiddo,” he smiles.
Dennis DeLiddo was Abas’ college coach. And it is clear he left a lasting impression.
“Just his attitude,” says Abas, a three-time national champion and four-time All-American. “And the words that come out of his mouth. I mean, he was an amazing character and really helped me get to that point.”
These days, things have come full circle for Abas. He tries to have the same influence on his athletes as the head wrestling coach at Fresno High School.
“I can’t wait to get these kids ready,” says Abas. “It might take a couple more years, but I think we’re on the right track.”
Last year, Abas briefly coached at the high school level when he spent three months at a private school, St. Joseph, in New Jersey. A few months after that stint ended, while substitute teaching at Fresno High School, he jumped at the opportunity to have a permanent team of his own.
“One of the assistant principals, vice principals, came in and offered me the job,” said Abas. “He’s like, ‘do you want to coach here next year?’ And I said, ‘yeah, I’ll take that.'”
At this time last year, the wrestling program at Fresno High School only had nine students. In Abas’ first year, the participation has doubled.
“I didn’t believe it at first,” says Jacky Jimenez, when she found out an Olympic silver medalist was going to be her head coach. “I had to go into the library and research everything about Stephen.”
“It’s hard to fool kids, so I think they see that passion and it gets them excited about wrestling,” says assistant coach Rick Flores.
Adds Fresno High wrestler Eric Rivera, “Every time we go to tournaments they want him to talk, teach some moves. Just, all the time, everyone’s coming up to him, shaking his hand.”
Watch Stephen Abas run a practice at Fresno High School and it is clear he is passing on his extensive wrestling database. However, Abas also understands these are high school kids and not Olympic-level athletes.
“I mean, kids are kids, and you gotta keep em having fun,” he says.
“When you get to know him, he’s really funny,” says Jimenez. “He’s not serious, he’s kind.”
With his wrestling credentials, Stephen Abas will likely have other coaching opportunities pop up in the future. He says, though, he is looking at his current job as a long-term project.
“With these kids looking up to me like that, it’s hard to leave,” says Abas. “I don’t wanna. I wanna be here and help them throughout their high school career.”