HARROD – Bluffton senior Deandre Nassar finished fourth at the 2017-18 Ohio High School Athletic Association State wrestling tournament in the 195-pound class.
That was after making it as a state qualifier in 2016-17 but he didn’t earn the podium.
He looks to not only make a return trip to the Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University in early March but has plans to do even better this time around.
With the wrestling season beginning its run toward the Schott, local grapplers are starting their final tune-ups.
Such as at Saturday’s Northwest Conference championships at Allen East High School.
Nassar headlined those who won their respective weight classes, becoming a four-time champion at 195 pounds with his performance Saturday.
He is the ninth NWC wrestler to earn that distinction.
In taking home the Wrestler of the Year award in voting by the league’s coaches, he looks to learn from his previous two trips to state, which included a fourth-place finish last year at 195.
“I had a goal last year of being in the top five and I did that. My whole goal this year was to get back there and move up on the podium,” Nassar said. “I lifted hard and worked hard to do just that. My goal is to win it this year. It’s my last chance and I’ve wanted to do that since my freshman year and how nice that would be to get that done.”
Even though he wrestled at 195 pounds at the NWC meet, he plans on dropping down to 182 for the postseason.
“I wrestled at 195 to help my team’s chances to win the meet but I feel dropping to 182 will help me. I’ve gotten used to wrestling heavier weights and that should only help me this year,” Nassar said. “I learned different techniques and ways to plan an attack.
“When I made it to state as a sophomore, I was very nervous. That really cost me a lot in my matches. I learned a valuable lesson last year about how not to be nervous. I didn’t let the big crowd and the environment get to me nearly as much as I did the year before and I wrestled so much better. I hope that experience pays off even more this time around. I’ve been working for this all season.”
He pinned Lincolnview’s Louis Ulrey in 53 seconds then won this next three matches: beating Spencerville’s Reuben Noriega 17-1 (technical fall); Columbus Grove’s Dakota Sargent 20-3 (technical fall) and then getting the best of Allen East’s Garrett Neth 7-1.
In Nassar’s mind, it pays to have a veteran coach like Jeff Kleman.
“He has had his share of state qualifiers in his years as the Bluffton head wrestling coach. It seems like we have someone going to state every year in wrestling,” Nassar said. “He knows how to work us hard to get us there. He knows what it takes to get there and he is constantly on us about our conditioning and other areas. He knows how to get us to work even harder and that’s why we have had the success we’ve had at state.”
Allen East took the team title, edging Bluffton 296.5-270.
Mustang head coach Mike Abbey’s team won their third straight team title and he has a “simple” formula for that.
“We treat this program like a family. We have alumni that come back and help out our programs, from the junior high to the Bitty (kids) program,” Abbey said. “Having that behind us means I can trust my guys on the lower levels to teach exactly what we want so that when they get up to high school, they know what to expect from me and what it is I want from them.
“As much as I can be mean to them and be hard on them — which I can be — I love them to death. These guys work very hard and give me everything they have and that’s all you ask of them as a coach.”
It’s not just the alumni that come in for praise for Abbey.
“It also helps that we have great parents pushing the kids to be the best they can be. You don’t have success without kids working hard and you don’t have success without parents encouraging their children to give it a try and work hard,” Abbey said. “What helps is that all the students are here at one school building. They know Mr. Abbey from when they were little because I’ve been around for 20-some years and it helps get kids out for wrestling.
“I put on my Bill Belichick when it comes to coaching. I want these kids to get better every day at this sport and the kids work hard to do that. We don’t worry about the fancy stuff but constantly drill on the basics and fundamentals, as well as conditioning. You can always hear me yelling about that at meets and matches. That’s a good thing to have our alumni coming back to help with the programs because they’ve experienced what we’re trying to do and if they wrestled in college, they have that experience as well to rely on.”
It was Abbey’s eighth NWC team title at Allen East with the first coming in 2006.
“We’ve had a great group of guys the last three seasons. These two classes I knew coming in would be good at wrestling; the thing is, we don’t have a senior this year,” Abbey said.
Not only did Nassar take the top wrestler award but Kleman took Coach of the Year honors as well.