The Bee's Winter All-Stars: Boys Wrestler of the Year Nick Nevills

The Fresno BeeApril 11, 2014 

Clovis High's Nick Nevills, left, takes the advantage against Clovis West's Austin Cox in their 285-pound matchup in a Tri-River Athletic Conference duel at Clovis High on Feb. 12, 2014.

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Clovis High's Nick Nevills started his wrestling career as a second-grade prodigy.

He would become "The Franchise" -- as dubbed by Cougars coach Steve Tirapelle -- of the most successful high school wrestling program in state history.

Nevills now heads off to four-time reigning NCAA Division I champion Penn State as the only heavyweight to win gold three times in the 42-year history of the CIF State Championships and as a four-time medalist during a career spurred on by a sibling rivalry and a desire to be as dominant as any wrestler to ever wear the single in California.

The Bee's Wrestler of the Year topped brother Zach -- also a four-time state medalist -- by becoming the heaviest freshman state champion when he won the 285-pound title in 2011, launching a career that would produce a 200-5 record and the most pins (146) ever by a Californian.

Nevills also led the way for Clovis to set records with four consecutive state team titles -- and 12 overall -- while scoring 125.5 of the Cougars' 819 total points.

"He matured mentally early. He could see what he was trying to accomplish," Tirapelle said. "A lot of kids, they don't necessarily get it until their sophomore year. Nick knew what he wanted to do in the eighth grade. He had focus."

It started when Nevills' father, Wayne, who grew up playing basketball in Oklahoma, figured out pretty quickly that his four boys wouldn't be following him onto the court.

"Zach was good for fouling, but that was about it," Nevills said of his oldest son.

Nevills and wife Kerri then put their boys (also including AJ and Seth) in baseball. But with each kid on a different field and only two parents to watch, baseball wasn't going to work as the family sport, either.

So, with the neighboring Clutts family -- as in former Clovis state wrestling champion and current NFL fullback Tyler Clutts -- serving as inspiration, the Nevills family turned to wrestling.

"They saw someone who lived just the way they did, came from the same size family," Clutts said. "They saw it was possible to be successful on the football field, in the wrestling room and in the classroom. I'm not going to say they looked up to me, but they saw if you put in the work, results will come."

Zach Nevills was an instant success at the elementary-school level and went on to become the heaviest freshman to place at the state (finishing fifth at 171 pounds in 2009) before Nick came along. He concluded his Clovis career as the 170-pound champ and the 28th four-time medalist in state history before moving on to Stanford.

And that only served as motivation for his younger brother.

"Nick is very competitive," Wayne Nevills said. "Anything Zach did, Nick wanted to beat."

He started working toward that at the first tournament he entered, the California State Freestyle Championships, while at Gettysburg Elementary.

Just four months since starting the sport, Nevills repeatedly took his opponents down, and did so with ease while winning his first title, according to former Gettysburg coach Tony Bagdasarian.

"He was just a monster," Bagdasarian said. "He won state not knowing anything."

And the winning never stopped as Nevills kept growing, getting stronger and becoming more passionate about the sport.

"Really there's three factors that give a kid success: work ethic, competitiveness and talent," Tirapelle said. "You can overcome some of that if you are really high end in two of the three, but Nick is high end in all of them. That's why he's at the top and one of the greatest wrestlers to come through in the history of California."

Nevills capped his high school career with a double dandy.

First, on March 8, he pinned Roosevelt-Los Angeles' Nour Abdullatif, who entered 40-0 with 38 pins, in 2:36 to become the state's 20th three-time champion and its 34th four-time medalist. Nevills finished his senior season 50-0 with a school-record 46 pins.

A week later, nationally No. 1-ranked Nevills beat four-time Pennsylvania state champion and No. 2-ranked Thomas Haines 5-3 at the Dapper Dan Classic, one of the most prestigious, invitation-only wrestling events in the country. Haines was the popular in-state hero who legendary wrestler and Penn State coach Cael Sanderson passed on in favor of Nevills to be the Nittany Lions' next heavyweight.

"He's probably the best heavyweight we've ever had (in California)," said Al Fontes, historian and editor for The California Wrestler, the state's leading authority on the sport. "And pound for pound, he's among the best blue chippers we've ever had."

About the only blemish on Nevills' high school career was his 4-3 loss to Foothill-Sacramento's Michael Lowman in the state semifinals his sophomore year.

Nevills entered the match No. 1 in the state and the favorite to win his second title. Lowman was the third-place qualifier out of the Sac-Joaquin Section.

Nevills ended up third, his hopes of matching Bakersfield's Darrell Vasquez as the state's only four-time champion dashed.

"I was so mad that I wasn't the champ that it was hard for me to celebrate (the team title,)" said Nevills, who added that his grades temporarily slipped and he contemplated giving up football (he earned All-Bee honors in that sport as a junior and senior). "It was heartbreaking. I was so determined to do well my junior year, I pushed myself to a new level."

Tirapelle noticed.

"That changed his perspective on things," Tirapelle said. "After that, I never had to mention 'maybe you should run a little harder, maybe you should lift a little harder, maybe you should put in more quality time.' He became the ultimate leader."

Nevills closed his career with a 105-match winning streak. He went 53-0 with 44 pins as a junior, highlighted by a pin in 2:15 of Los Alamitos' Alex Redmond in the state final.

"I'm not saying I wouldn't have won again, but I don't think I would be the same kind of person I am now," Nevills said of his state semifinal loss as a sophomore. "I wouldn't have as much respect and care and passion for being as good as I can be if that wouldn't have happened."

An avid video watcher of the world's best wrestlers, Nevills never reviewed the loss to Lowman. He preferred to not look back on that moment and now has some perspective on it.

"It was a defining moment in my career," Nevills said. "But I look at it as if that's the worst thing that's happened to me so far, I've had a pretty good life."


 WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: NICK NEVILLS

• School: Clovis

• Grade/weight class Senior/285

• Takedown: Became the 20th three-time state champion -- and the only heavyweight to win three titles -- when he pinned Roosevelt-Los Angeles' Nour Abdullatif in 2:36 during the final. That capped a 50-0, 46-fall season for the Penn State-bound Nevills, who was the nation's No. 1-ranked heavyweight in all the major polls. Went 200-5 with a state-record 146 pins in a four-year career that also featured a third-place finish at state as a sophomore after becoming the heaviest freshman state medalist when he won the 285-pound title in 2011. The state's 34th four-time medalist was the driving force behind the Cougars' record four consecutive state team champions.

• He said it: "Nick's success comes from the fact he started early with goals. He wanted to accomplish certain things and he worked at it. He follows what's going on, and that gives him a huge advantage over most kids in high school." -- Clovis co-coach Steve Tirapelle.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6103, nickg@fresnobee.com or @NickG_FB on Twitter.

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