In wrestling, as in life, Alberto Quiros has had to work for everything he has earned.
The Augustana College senior 149-pounder has developed into one of the top competitors in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin this season and would like nothing better than to conclude his career at the NCAA Division III national tournament.
Beginning with Thursday's CCIW Championships that will be hosted by the Vikings, Quiros has a pretty clear idea of how to make that happen.
"It's up to me wrestling to my potential, wrestling smart and wrestling my match from start to finish," Quiros said. "I've seen and beaten good competition this year. I know I can reach my goals."
Those goals seemed light years away when Quiros arrived at Augustana.
He only started wrestling during his sophomore year at Morton East High School in Cicero, Ill., encouraged by a high school football coach to give the sport a try.
"He told me to try it for one week and if I didn't like it he said I could walk away," Quiros said.
He stuck with it, never qualifying for the Illinois Class 2A state tournament but earning an opportunity to attend Augustana, where his freshman year proved to be an eye-opening experience.
Quiros finished 9-17 while competing at 141 pounds, a humbling season that left him more determined than ever.
"My approach has always been to take on a challenge," he said. "In wrestling, I wanted to fix what was wrong. It's been the same way in the classroom for me. My first semester wasn't very good, but I learned from it and I've improved."
In May, the middle of three sons raised in a single-parent home will become the first member of his family to earn a four-year college degree, maintaining a double major in psychology and history.
"It has always been important to me to take on the next challenge, to overcome any obstacles that might be in my way," Quiros said. "Life isn't always easy, but you don't give up on it. You keep working."
That mindset has extended to the wrestling room, where Augustana coach Eric Juergens provided plenty of motivation to Quiros in the midst of his 9-17 freshman season.
"He told me in the middle of that season that he believed I could win a national title, that he saw that type of potential in me. I didn't have a lot going for me then, but I held onto that and made wrestling one of the most important things in my life," Quiros said.
"I have learned so much from coach, both how to compete physically and how to mentally approach things. I'm not the most athletic person in the world, never will be, but that doesn't mean I can't outwork whoever I'm on the mat against."
Juergens has watched Quiros embrace that approach.
The only senior on this year's Augustana team helped lead the Vikings to an 11-4 dual season, the school's first double-digit win total in eight years.
From 9-17 as a freshman, Quiros has compiled a 63-17 record over the past two seasons while helping lead a young, improving team by example.
"Alberto has earned the award as the hardest worker in our wrestling room the last three years and I'd be surprised if he didn't earn it again," Augustana coach Eric Juergens said. "He's made strides every season, he's very coach-able and he has worked hard to become a successful wrestler, developing an understanding of his strengths and then using them to his advantage."
Quiros finished second in his weight class at the 31-team Pete Wilson Invitational in his most recent outing, defeating a seventh-ranked opponent in the semifinals.
"He fought for the entire seven minutes to get to the championship and I think he understands it takes that type of effort in every match from here on out if he wants to get to where he wants to be at the end of the year,'' Juergens said.
It's the type of effort that Quiros is ready to give.
"To get to the D-III nationals and to have success there, that motivates me," Quiros said. "That is what I have worked for every day since the end of last season. I have done what the coaches have told me and now I have to apply that whenever I step on the mat. If I do that, good things will happen."