Aside from maybe Shakur Rasheed, who started the season as a backup and will now be representing the Nittany Lions at the NCAA tournament, the comeback story for Penn State wrestling this season has been heavyweight Nick Nevills.
After suffering a mid-season slump and dropping to as low as eighth place in the rankings, the redshirt junior battled back to take third place at last week’s Big Ten tournament and earn the No. 3 seed in this week’s national wrestling championships.
Nevills finished last week’s tournament with a 4-1 record, including a major decision and a commanding third-place victory, during which he put Iowa’s Sam Stoll on his back for four nearfall points.
“I think I had a really good tournament, but I think I can still wrestle better,” he said at practice Monday at Rec Hall. “I think I can continue to improve and I think since I came back from the (Southern) Scuffle in January, I have been improving steadily. I think I’ve been improving throughout the season and my time here, so I’m looking forward to making an even better appearance here at the NCAAs and finishing the season strong.”
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Nevills hit his low point of the season at the Southern Scuffle in the beginning of the year, where he looked sluggish and slow on shots, dropping two matches as the No. 1 seed to finish fourth in the tournament.
Since the Scuffle, Nevills says he’s shed about 20 pounds, weighing in at 255 pounds at Big Tens.
“I think Nick Nevills is wrestling really well right now, just better all around than he was mid-season,” coach Cael Sanderson said. “He was trying to get his weight up and it wasn’t really working, the weight wasn’t going where we wanted it to go and he just felt a little sluggish and he just wasn’t himself. So he’s leaner and quicker and moving better now and I think he’s a lot more confident.”
Nevills said the weight loss wasn’t necessarily a cut, as he didn’t change his diet, just the way he was working out in the practice room. By working out harder, the weight gradually came off and he started to feel faster and stronger.
“I just feel like I can move a little bit better. I feel better going into the third period, where I’m not feeling as tired,” he said. “I felt good at 275, I just didn’t feel like I was making myself do as much, so just losing that amount of weight has kind of helped me be able to push myself a little more and be able to be a little bit more active, which is what works out for me and helps me be the kind of wrestler I want to be.”
Feeling lighter on his feet, Nevills says, has helped him most in the scramble, where he often excelled in high school, being able to get at the legs and attack bigger wrestlers. With his sharpened athletic ability and speed, Nevills said he hopes to scramble more as he heads into the national tournament.
He’ll soon find out if the changes he’s made since January have paid off, as he could face the first opponent he lost to in the Scuffle — No. 14 Michael Boykin of North Carolina State — as early as the second round on Thursday.
And if he loses — he could be set up for a consolation bout with his brother A.J. Nevills, who’s now wrestling for Fresno State.
Nevills said that despite his younger brother’s insistence that they will match up in the tournament, he’s confident it won’t happen.
“I just kept telling him that if we wrestle, the Penn State fans are going to be happy because we’re getting bonus,” he said with a smirk.