In junior high, Andrew “Drew” Esquivel was so far ahead of the academic curve, and schoolwork came so easily to him, that he knew every concept his math teacher would explain well before the start of any lesson.
He didn’t mind that he already understood, that his aptitude was beyond the subject matter at hand, according to his dad, Andy Esquivel of Healdsburg.
“He listened because he loved math so much,” his father said.
It was not the same with wrestling.
Wrestling asked more of Esquivel. Which is, perhaps, what drew him to the sport and what made him love it. He identified as a wrestler.
“Schoolwork came easy to him,” Andy Esquivel said. “But the wrestling part did not come easy to him. He loved the hard work, the discipline. He loved his teammates.”
An Eagle Scout and a straight-A student at Healdsburg High, Esquivel went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall of 2013 on a full scholarship courtesy of the James Family Foundation. A computer science major, he was also accepted at Cornell, Princeton and Stanford.
And despite the rigors of college, Esquivel wanted to continue his wrestling career.
“It started out pretty tough for him,” MIT head coach Tom Layte said. “I think he started 0-13 his freshman year. We were concerned that we were going to lose him.”
But they didn’t lose Esquivel — instead, they saw him work his way into the national tournament. He made it to the tournament all three years at MIT and was one match away from medaling and becoming an All-American his junior year. Those optional practices in January? You know, the month when the average high in Cambridge is 36 degrees and snowfall usually reaches 13 inches? Those workouts were not optional for Esquivel.
“Drew lived three or four miles from campus,” Layte said. “He’d run or bike to the workout, then go to school, then practice. He just had a great overall attitude. He just enjoyed life. He enjoyed wrestling.”
The summer after his freshman year he had an internship in Barcelona, but he managed to find a wrestling club and worked out there.
He was voted team captain as a sophomore and again as a junior. He was named the team’s most valuable wrestler. For his senior year, he was gunning for All-American status, perhaps the one wrestling accolade that still eluded him.
Then, last July, on the eve of his senior year, Esquivel was struck and killed by a 28-year-old off-duty New York City police officer. Nicholas Batka was fired from the department and has been charged with manslaughter and driving under the influence. Esquivel was in New York for a summer internship.
Four hundred people came to a vigil in the Healdsburg Plaza last July. Former teachers came. His Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brothers came. His wrestling coaches came. His teammates came.
“Every day he came into the room he was just happy,” Layte said. “He got along very well with everybody.”
Esquivel knew how hard wrestling could be on a person, so he reached out to all of his teammates, encouraging them to keep after it, to stick with it.
“That’s the way Drew was — he tried to make people feel as welcome as possible,” Layte said.