TORRINGTON – It all started right here for Bo Nickal.
Some of Nickal’s earliest memories of wrestling took place on the mats in Torrington.
“I remember being in the wrestling room, practicing and watching the high schoolers compete when my dad was coaching there,” Nickal said. “I still use a lot of the techniques I learned back when I was six, seven, eight years old in Torrington."
He credits his father and grandfather for helping him develop his love of the sport during his early years in Torrington.
He lived in Torrington until he was in fifth grade. Then they moved to New Mexico for a handful of years before ultimately ended up in Allen, Texas for his eighth-grade year.
Now, Nickal is a three-time NCAA champion, and it was announced on April 1, he had won college wrestling’s top honor – Hodge Trophy.
“It was exciting to hear that I won the Hodge,” Nickal said. “It was something I’ve been working for for a long time. I feel very grateful and appreciative of all the opportunities I’ve had to be able to finish my career at Penn State and to know I’ve made the most of my time. I’ve had a ton of fun competing. I can look back and be proud of myself of how hard I’ve worked, and I gave 100 percent effort every second that I had.”
The Hodge Trophy, also known as the “wrestling’s Heisman,” is presented annually to the top collegiate wrestler. The award is named after Dan Hodge, the former three-time (1955-57) NCAA champion from the University of Oklahoma, who did not allow a takedown in his career and pinned 36 of 46 of his opponents.
Nickal was one of four finalists which also included Anthony Ashnault of Rutgers, Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell and Penn State teammate Jason Nolf.
“There is a bunch of criteria that goes into it. Some of them are your record, your dominance and your pins. It’s an award that honors our dominance on the mat,” Nickal said. “I’m very, very happy to receive the award. A lot of people say it’s the Heisman Trophy of college wrestling.”
In addition to the criteria, there is also a voting process.
He received 37 first-place votes from the 51 ballots cast from the Hodge Trophy Voting Committee which is made up of each past Hodge winner, national media, retired college coaches from each region and a representative of each national wrestling organization.
Nickal’s career honors are numerous: 120-3 career record with 59 pins, 12 tech falls and 23 majors; 19-1 all-time in the NCAA tournament; 2019 Co-Big Ten Wrestler of the Year (shared with teammate Jason Nolf); three-time NCAA Champion; four-time NCAA finalist; four-time All-American; 2019 NCAA Most Dominant Wrestler; 2018 NCAA Tournament Outstanding Wrestler; 2017 NCAA Tournament Gorriaran Award; second on Penn State’s all-time pins list (59); T-3rd on Penn State›s all-time NCAA wins list (19); T-13th on Penn State›s all-time wins list (120).
“I’ve had the best coaches in the country at Penn State. I have the best training partners. I try to boost my effort and attitude in being positive in practice and match that we have. I want to give that same 100 percent effort every time,” Nickal said. “There isn’t anything special I’m doing that other people aren’t doing, but I have a lot of great people round me that are helping me succeed.”
Nickal was officially recognized as the Hodge at Penn State wrestling team’s banquet over the weekend.
With college in his rear-view mirror, Nickal is already looking down the road with the bar continued to be set high.
He hopes to bring back gold medals to America from the 2019 World Championships and the 2020 Olympics in Japan.
“That’s my plans as of right now,” Nickal said.