By Rob Sanders
When Andrew Nicola got the news that he would be Concordia’s head wrestling coach, he rented a U-Haul and drove 1,500 miles from Riverside, California to Seward, Nebraska. The first athlete he saw on campus was senior heavyweight Ceron Francisco when he walked into Concordia locker room on Sunday, October 9th. Francisco, a 6’3” 280-pound battle tank, grabbed Nicola and gave him a big hug to welcome him to the Bulldog family.
When he addressed his team for the first time the next morning, Nicola admitted that he was nervous to talk to them as one month of the season was already gone. “I started out by telling them that I’ve been asking God for the last 14 years to put me in the position to be a head wrestling coach,” explained Nicola. Then he went through a devotional with the team and prayed with them. “These guys think the world of Dana Vote, but none of them sat and sulked because of the coaching change.” added Nicola.
Since then, the resounding theme on the Bulldog wrestling team has been “let’s get better together”. Every morning that Nicola goes into the weight room at 6:30am to lift, he is accompanied by at least 5 of his guys who are putting in extra work. “Seeing these guys hungry to put in extra work without being asked, makes me want to work harder as a coach,” commented Nicola. Nicola can’t go into the room or his office without seeing his wrestlers putting in time.
Nicola wasted no time getting settled, as he bought a house within 16 days of moving to Seward. Nicola believes that coaches can demand more of their athletes when they put the work in themselves, and he will begin working on his 3rd Master’s degree in January. “I want to show these guys that I can balance coaching, academics, and a social life,” said Nicola.
Proven seniors Ken Burkhardt Jr., Ceron Francisco, and Kodie Cole are returning All-Americans and leaders of the Bulldog program. All of the twelve Bulldog seniors have made sure that the entire team is on board with Nicola’s vision to guide the Bulldogs to an NAIA National team title.
The coaching staff is very excited about transfers Giovanni Castillo, Kirk Kaliszewski, Victor Haro, and Jon Lado, and expects them to make an impact immediately. “Our staff believes that we have two wrestlers at 125, 149, 165, 197 and 285 who are capable of becoming All-Americans. That depth ensures that even our best guys never have an easy day of practice,” explained Nicola.
Sophomores Walker Fisher and Alexander Reimers will join Burkhardt Jr. to make a total of 3 Nebraskans in the lineup. NAIA schools are allowed to take 12 wrestlers to the national tournament, so the Bulldogs could have two born and bred Nebraskan All-Americans at 197. “Reimers actually beat Burkhardt Jr. in a tournament last year, so we know he can compete at a high level,” commented Nicola.
125-Dmitri Smith and/or Giovanni Castillo
149-Victor Haro and/or Foster Bunce
165-Kirk Kaliszewski and/or Tommy Bailey
197-Ken Burkhardt Jr. and/or Alexander Reimers
285-Ceron Francisco and/or DJ McIntyre
141-Cameron Devers (Holly Springs, NC) state champion, state finalist
157-Clay Dickinson (Friend, NE) 2x state medalist
157-Gabe Crawford (Virginia Beach, VA) 2x state medalist