Prep wrestling

Wrestling helps Wheeler's Army-bound Hernandez be all he can be

2013-12-10T17:00:00Z 2013-12-11T01:37:04Z Wrestling helps Wheeler's Army-bound Hernandez be all he can beJim Peters james.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com
December 10, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

Wheeler holds wrestling practice in a tiny, no-frills room tucked away upstairs in the corner of its fieldhouse.

To Nick Hernandez, it is home.

"I hadn't found any motivation to better myself at school," he said. "Wrestling is one of those things I can hold on to. It teaches you all about discipline, which is what I needed."

Hernandez spent his sophomore year at Hebron. He was on the wrestling team, but was academically ineligible to compete. He returned to Wheeler, which he attended as a freshman, last year, when the school rolled out the mats to start a program. Hernandez improved his grades, a trend that has continued, as he garnered almost all As on his last report card.

"It was a place for him to come to," Bearcats coach Scott Houldieson said. "From day one, we tell them, after high school, you're not going to be a professional wrestler, you're going to a professional in something else. It's grades first, family second, then wrestling."

For Hernandez, the connection to the mat was immediate.

"The sport came naturally to me," he said. "It's something I love. I feel like wrestling is a sport that pushes people past their old limits and I'm always looking to better myself. It makes you a strong person all-around."

Wheeler is wrestling a full varsity schedule this season and will participate in the state tournament for the first time. Hernandez, who went 4-0 in the Boone Grove Invite at 126 pounds, is excited about what's in store. He runs several miles each morning before teammate Jake Bertucci picks him up to go to school and work out prior to classes.

"Wrestling is the only thing I have on my mind right now," Hernandez said. "It's my one focus. I've dedicated myself to seeing what I can do. I was pretty good when I started and I feel like I've learned so much and come so far since I began."

Houldieson has been impressed with what he's seen of Hernandez in practice and matches.

"I'm trying to give him a goal and see how he responds," Houldieson said. "He wrestles tough. He's one of our two best conditioned guys. He's one that doesn't quit. He'll keep fighting. Wrestling's a sport where, on the mat, you're an individual, but in the room, you're a team. There are going to be ups and downs, days that are going to be harder than other. Nick stands out as a leader of the pack. He's got a good positive attitude. He pushes everybody."

Much like wrestling, the military has provided Hernandez with a sense of direction in his life. A month or so after graduating from Wheeler, he will leave for Fort Lee, Va., to begin his tour of duty in the Army and study to become an electrical mechanic.

"I don't see a better place for me," Hernandez said.

Hernandez, whose grandpa was in the Navy and uncle served in Desert Storm, spent an exhausting 10 weeks last summer at Fort Jackson, S.C. for basic training. He described the experience as 'life-changing.'

"I made some of my best friends, people across the country I talk to, to this day," he said. "It's like a sport. It's a brotherhood that just doesn't end. It tests you mentally and physically. Honestly, I didn't want to leave. I found a family. I wanted to stay."

Before that chapter begins, Hernandez aspires to be the best he can be as a wrestler.

"I'm looking forward to a lot of matches and hopefully a lot of victories," he said. "I feel like I'm at that point. I hope to go out there and make a name for myself. It's what I train for every day."

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