Even for the people who already knew, it is very nearly insulting to describe Jacob Telles as handicapped.
“It was one of those things,” Sandia High School wrestling coach Clem Narvaiz said. “Not a lot of people paid attention or noticed.”
It would have been easy to miss this particular handicap, such as it is. Telles, a recent Sandia graduate, was born with what he describes as a “crab claw, to be honest,” a clinical condition called ectrodactyly. The doctors, Telles, said, couldn’t explain the reason.
Telles played four years of varsity football at Sandia. He wrestled for four years for the Matadors, and last February won an individual state championship at 220 pounds.
And now, Telles, 18, has earned a wrestling scholarship to Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska.
“I decided I still wanted to wrestle,” he said. “I still love competing.”
Part of this renewed drive could be attributed to – of all people – Jon Jones.
Telles had his mind set on joining the world of MMA, knew there was the teaching talent available in Albuquerque to perhaps expedite that dream once he finished high school.
“I was gonna be competing,” Telles said, “I just didn’t know if it would be wrestling or not.”
Jones, an MMA world champion, helped clarify Telles’ intentions, comically so. Last summer, Telles got onto the mat a couple of times with Jones. At that point, Telles didn’t have a scholarship offer for college, so MMA seemed a reasonable alternative.
Jones taught the kid a lesson.
“He destroyed me,” Telles said with a laugh. “He picked me up like a baby. I’ve never been picked up like that before. But it was awesome to be around people like that and their competitive nature.”
The short mat visits with Jones made it obvious that any foray into MMA down the road would require him to continue to wrestle.
“My (junior) coach (Ray Woods) made a good point, saying, ‘How are you gonna compete if you don’t have any wrestling?’ I said, you know what, that actually makes sense.”
Last winter, Telles only dropped one match en route to his state wrestling title. One of his postseason honors was to be named to New Mexico’s “Dream Team” – wrestling’s equivalent of an all-classification, all-state roster – and that, he said, partially fueled Concordia’s interest.
“He’s one of the most amazing kids I had in my career,” said former Sandia football coach Kevin Barker, who coached Telles for three seasons. “He is just a pretty special kid, and I know he’ll really achieve in college.”
Blowing out New Mexico competition on the mat, Telles said, was satisfying, but hardly proof that he could excel in other areas, including college or MMA.
“I’m good in New Mexico, but what does that mean nationally?” he said.
Certainly his handicap hasn’t been an impediment.
“For me,” he said, “it’s not thinking about it. You know what I mean? That’s the biggest thing. It’s not really physical, it’s more of a mental thing. It’s me, building my confidence and believing in myself to know that it’s not a handicap.”
The best compliment, in fact, Telles could hope to receive is that he doesn’t in any way look handicapped.
“I get that a lot,” he said. “Makes me happy.”
As Sandia’s right tackle, there was never an issue.
“I never even thought about,” current Sandia coach Chad Adcox said. “He just did his job and never said a word about it.”
Adcox laughed as he recalled a district game last year when Telles was whistled for holding.
“I’m yelling at the refs. He’s only got one hand!” Adcox said. “How’s he holding the guy?!”
Lifting weights was a more delicate problem; Telles said he often uses a hook apparatus, wrapped around his wrist, to lift. Although, he added, he can now rest the bar in his V-shaped claw to lift from certain positions.
Wrestling at a high level required more attention to detail as Telles was forced to make certain adjustments on the mat to accommodate the absence of a left hand. Going back to junior wrestling, he said, Woods was the creator of a style that would custom-fit a body with one distinct, physical limitation.
“Helped me build my arsenal with only having one hand,” Telles said. “He was a big part of my early years, teaching me how to use it and how to hit moves or adjust the moves to my style.”
Telles was a two-time state finalist with the Matadors. In an early practice session before he became head coach, Narvaiz said he didn’t know about Telles’ handicap as he was telling Telles during a hand-control drill to grab an opponent with his other hand.
“He told me he couldn’t,” Narvaiz said. “He looked at me funny.”
Telles won over his coach quickly, and permanently.
“Since I’ve known him, he’s been the hardest-working kid in the room,” Narvaiz said. “He always finds a way to get around his disadvantages.”