The Norwalk wrestler, who just finished his junior year, had finished runners-up at the Division II OHSAA state championships and the NHSCA High School Nationals in less than a month.
That meant a lot of attention from high-level college coaches came his way. And before Hernandez even finished out his junior year of school, things moved so quickly his college choice is out of the way.
On May 22, Hernandez gave a verbal commitment to NCAA Division I University of Pennsylvania, located in the heart of Philadelphia.
One of the top academic institutions in the country, the Quakers are members of the Ivy League, where Cornell University is a powerhouse in wrestling. Other Ivy League schools include Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
Hernandez had also visited Cleveland State and Kent State.
“I liked all three, but just the opportunity at Penn and everything with their coaching staff and the program itself and where it will be in the next couple of years really stood out,” Hernandez said. “Everything just looked really good.
“The education side is obviously one of the best, but athletic-wise, too, things really clicked,” he added. “It was a really tough choice. I was up many nights thinking about it, but this felt like the best decision for me.”
Just hearing or saying the words ‘Ivy League’ has been an overwhelming experience in itself for Hernandez.
Penn was one of the nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence. It was the first institution of higher learning in the U.S. to refer to itself as a university. It had the first school of medicine and business school in the U.S., and Benjamin Franklin was Penn’s founder and first president.
Penn also has a competitive acceptance rate of 7.4 percent for undergraduates.
“I never thought I’d be able to go to an Ivy League school,” Hernandez said. “My parents always hammered me about my grades, and my coaches, too. I always knew grades would be important — but I never thought it would get me to where I’m going to go.
“To be able to say I’m going to an Ivy League school is something many people don’t get to do,” he added. “It will be one of the biggest accomplishments and one of the proudest things I’ll do in my life.”
Hernandez carries a 3.89 grade-point average into his senior year at Norwalk. He’s also already leaning toward picking his major at Penn, which was ranked the eighth-best university in the latest U.S. News & World Report.
“I think I want to study biomedical engineering,” Hernandez said. “Or some type of engineering field. My uncle is a biomedical engineer, and that kind of kickstarted me on this path.”
Hernandez is chasing the goal of joining Dan Pugh (1972) as the only state champion in program history. He was the first Norwalk state finalist in 27 years in March after a 53-4 season record.
Also a third-place finisher in 2018, Hernandez is 144-16 in his career at Norwalk and a three-time state qualifier.
At the end of March, Hernandez then went to Virginia Beach for the high school nationals. He went 6-1 in the 170-pound weight class.
The national runners-up finish saw him beat three state champions from Wyoming, Idaho and Georgia, and a state finalist from Kentucky en route to his title match appearance. In the finals, he lost a tough, 3-2 decision, to a state champion from Arizona, who wrestled for a college preparatory school.
“After committing, I don’t want to let my future or current coaches and teammates down,” Hernandez said. “I still ant to be the best. It’s always going to be on my mind, and it makes me want to have harder practices and attack the weight room harder.
“Trying to win a state or national title, It’s a definite driving force to still grow as an individual,” he added. “I want to help other teammates grow as well. Last season was a big accomplishment, but with that comes higher expectations as you develop and grow.”
Other than a handful of wrestling tournaments in the summer with some Norwalk and St. Paul kids, Hernandez is essentially in football mode. He was a key linebacker (93 tackles, five sacks, two interceptions) on last season’s 10-win, state semifinal team in Div. III.
“I’ll definitely be working on my wrestling, but our seniors, football is our main focus right now,” Hernandez said. “We definitely want to win more after we got that taste and go after that Week 15. That’s the main focus.”