True Wrestling got the opportunity to interview Troy Nickerson from Northern Colorado and get some perspective from a NY wrestler turned Coloradan. Nickerson grew up wrestling around the Binghamton New York area, was a National Champion while at Cornell and is now the head coach at University of Northern Colorado.
T-W: How old were you when you started wrestling? Why did you start to wrestle?
TN: I started wrestling at 5 years old. My father loved the sport but never had the opportunity to do so. Basically, he showed me a few moves and entered me in my first tournament at the local boys and girls club. In my first match, I was pinned by a girl.
T-W: How old were you when you took it seriously? Knowing that you wanted to wrestle in college.
TN: In NY, you can wrestle varsity in 7th and 8th grade. In 7th grade, I lost in the section finals and did not compete in the state tournament. That loss was very hard for me to accept and from then on, I knew wrestling was something that I wanted to excel at.
T-W: What’s something important that you learned about yourself while wrestling at Cornell?
TN: While at Cornell, I learned that wrestling is far more than the 7 minutes that you are on the mat with your opponent. I learned the fundamentals of wrestling outside of the wrestling room, the relationships, the program building that I have taken with me today.
T-W: What did you learn from your time at Cornell from the coaching staff?
TN: The most important thing I learned from my college coaches was passion not only for the sport but for the individual. I realized that no matter how I did in competition, that my coaches always had my back. This passion has carried over into my coaching career and really is the reason why I became a coach.
T-W: What’s your relationship like with Kevin Jackson and ISU? What did you pick up as a coach from your time there?
TN: Kevin Jackson is one of our nation’s best wrestlers ever. From him, I was able to enhance much of my on the mat skills and coaching philosophies that I use today. He is one of the most technically savvy guys out there and wrestling is his life.
T-W: Is there anything that surprised you in a good way about living in Greeley Co?
TN: I was really blessed to come into a community that supported a sport like wrestling in such a strong way. I will be honest, I did not know a lot of the UNC wrestling history before I got here, however, learned quickly the history and what has made this program successful in the past. Many of those people are still around and still believe in this program, which helps me out in many different ways.
T-W: Who are your coaching role models?
TN: I have a lot of great mentors in the sport, however, my go to guys are Rob Koll, Jack Spates, and Jim Gibbons.
T-W: You’ve had some good recruits. Can you offer some thoughts on that?
TN: Recruiting is the name of the game. I always say that it is difficult to win the Kentucky derby if you don’t have thoroughbreds. This is also true in wrestling. Development at the collegiate level is possible, however, not at the same levels that it is in high school. I am very pleased with how recruiting has gone for us. I have learned some very valuable lessons from recruiting and have lost out on some great kids by a few mistakes that I have made. Recruiting is really very similar to sales. I believe that if you believe in the vision you are creating that it is easy to sell the program.
T-W: What kind of wrestlers are you looking for?
TN: There are a lot of things outside of wrestling accomplishments that I look for in a potential student-athlete. For me, accomplishments don’t move the needle far. I am looking for kids who are coachable, can communicate at a high level, and wrestle hard the entire match. Wrestling is a very mental sport and when you can see a kid break in a match that is a big red flag for me. It is very hard to teach toughness. Academics and social behavior are also a big factor. If a kid proves that he can do the right things early in life, I feel that they translate well into college.
T-W: What can you tell me about your coaching staff?
TN: This year, I added Joe LeBlanc to my coaching staff. He is a Colorado native and people love him here. He has done a great job in the past with upper weights and we look for him to continue that here at UNC.
T-W: What can you tell us about this year’s team?
TN: This year, the guys have really bought into what we are building here at UNC. Their mindset has changed and they are willing to put in the work to get the most out of each individual athlete. Currently, our guys are competing at a really high level. We are wrestling with a lot of fight and creating opportunities for us to win wrestling matches.
T-W: What are your goals for this year’s team?
TN: We really haven’t set much of a tangible goal for this year. We are looking for our guys to get 1% better every day. That is our main goal. I believe that if we do this, good things will happen.
T-W: What is your biggest asset as a coach? Can you share some of your proudest moments or accomplishments?
TN: I think my passion for coaching is my biggest asset. When your athletes can see the passion that you bring into the room every day, it becomes contagious. That is where we are at as a program right now. I am a visionary for sure, but I try not to lose track of the daily accomplishments we have when looking big picture.
T-W: What would you like your legacy at UNC to be?
TN: UNC was my dream job. I really wanted to get into a program that was struggling and take it from the ground up. I will consider it a success if I can leave here someday knowing that we are in better hands than where we started. This is not only from a competitive standpoint but more so developing a passion around this community where wrestling matters.
T-W: What’s the financial and endowment situation like for the wrestling team?
TN: We are fortunate here at UNC to have a very large endowment for our wrestling program. This is critical when you look at the future of Olympic sports in general. The goal is to one day become a fully self-sufficient program. I think we can get there.
T-W: What do you love about the sport of wrestling?
TN: Wrestling is a sport like no other. The individuality of it is what really makes it special. I believe it teaches you a lot of life lessons surrounding hard work, passion and desire. Those are important qualities that a lot of people look at when they consider you for a future career, spouse, etc… For many, wrestling is not a lifestyle, and that is okay. If you can get the most out of it when you can, I believe it can help you be successful in whatever else you decide to do.
T-W: Good luck coach, success at UNC would be a great step in giving local blue chip talent a place to stay close to home and spreading D1 wrestling into the CO University system. We’ll check back with you later in the season.