Bo Nickal Keeps Winning
Wrestling fans knew a lot about Bo Nickal heading into his redshirt freshman year in 2015. The Texas native came to Happy Valley after an impressive high school career – he was a three-time state champion and possessed a 183-7 record, 131 of those wins coming via pin.
They also knew Nickal because he had one of the hardest jobs in sports – he had to be the guy who replaced a star. In this case, Nickal had to replace Matt Brown ’15 at 174. Brown won a national champion as a senior and a three-time All-American, so for Nickal to fill Brown’s shoes, it would require a monstrous year.
So far, Nickal has exceeded just about every expectation that a person can have for a redshirt freshman. He’s the top-ranked wrestler in the country in his weight class and has accrued a 25-1 record, which is tied for the most wins on the team with another redshirt freshman, Jason Nolf. He’s made an impact right away, and all of it comes down to one thing: Nickal was, essentially, bred to be a wrestler.
Nickal was raised in a wrestling household. His dad is a wrestling coach and his grandfather was a collegiate wrestler at Northern Colorado. Even one of his sisters wrestled for a year as a child before moving on to other things.
All of this helped cultivate Nickal’s love of wrestling. From the time he was eight years old, he knew that he eventually wanted to wrestle collegiately.
Fast forward a decade to when Nickal had to pick a school. That part was a little difficult, considering he held offers from major programs like Cornell, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. But Penn State was able to give him everything, from a traditionally strong program to an outstanding visit when he was a junior in high school.
“Penn State just felt different from all the other schools I had visited recently,” Nickal said. “I definitely felt that I fit in a lot better.”
He also had a path to competing early on in his career. Nickal redshirted during his first year in Happy Valley, saying that the implication was that he would replace Brown when the time came. After getting “better at every area,” working with Brown, and going 13-2 as an unattached competitor, Nickal finally got his chance in 2015-16.
So far, he’s been outstanding. This, Nickal said, is something that happened because he has an inherent desire to always improve.
“Every day, get better, not have any days where I was staying the same or getting worse,” Nickal said.
The scary thing is, Nickal keeps improving. He hopes to win a national championship at the upcoming NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in New York City next month, and once he’s done with that, he’s (hopefully) moving on to something much bigger.
“I plan on trying to make the team this year,” Nickal said when asked about competing at the Olympics. “Then for however many years to come that I’m able to keep competing and keep wrestling, I plan on doing that as long as my body holds up.”
Sure, trying to make the Olympics as a 20-year-old going into his redshirt sophomore season will be tough. But seeing as how he’s been able to fill in for one of the best wrestlers in program history with no issues, would you bet against Nickal?
Bill DiFilippo, online editor