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Alirez wins Junior Dan Hodge Trophy
By Mike Finn
Winning four state championships in Colorado and many other national honors was not as easy as it looked for Andrew Alirez the past four years.
After all, the nation’s top-ranked wrestler, who pinned 98 foes in compiling a 160-1 record — and flattened 29 of 37 foes in an undefeated senior season — in his career at Greeley Central High School, dealt with a broken thumb early in his junior season.
He also got a chance to see how his father, whose first name is also Andrew and served as both a coach and drilling partner throughout much of his high school career, overcame shoulder and knee injuries.
“That just shows you have to have that dog in you,” said the younger Alirez, whose nickname is “Boo Boo” after hanging out as a child with his father, whose nickname was Yogi. “When we do drill, we go hard. He’s a go-er. He won’t stop, which makes me push harder.
“(He also showed me) you have to find that way to push through (any pain). That’s something that is going to help me in the college season. It’s impossible to go through a whole college season without something going wrong.”
“Together with the AAU, WIN Magazine is proud to announce Andrew as this year’s Junior Hodge winner,” said WIN Publisher Bryan Van Kley. “It’s great that he’s chosen to stay in-state to wrestle for Northern Colorado and coach Troy Nickerson, himself a former Junior Hodge winner and NCAA champ. We’re confident with the high-level goals Andrew has for himself, he’ll continue to represent his family and the state of Colorado well for years to come.”
His respect for Nickerson played a big part in Alirez staying in his home state for the next four-to-five years.
“He believed in me before anyone else, including myself,” recalled Alirez. “Even after I took a few lumps, he still believed in me. Nearly everything he predicted about me has come true. He told me I’d be No. 1 by my senior year or that pound-for-pound, I’d be in the discussion about who was No. 1.
“It’s kind of happening just like he said it would.”
The only dilemma for this high school senior is determining what style he will focus on in the next five years, including next winter when he may wrestle immediately at 149 pounds for the Bears.
“Right now, the plan is for me to wrestle right away,” said Alirez, who added that a strong freestyle performance over the next year might suggest he take an Olympic redshirt next winter.
But he also knows he may have a bright Mixed Martial Arts career ahead of him after he completes his college career.
“My dad and his brother were first -generation wrestlers but everyone in my family before that were boxers,” said the younger Alirez. “Even though it was more wresting for me, I do have 10 amateur fights under my belt.”
He believes he is suited for the MMA.
“No doubt. You have to make the money somehow,” laughed Alirez.
“I think my wrestling background will allow me to control the pace. I feel confident about the time I make the transition over to MMA. I want to wrestle in the next two Olympic cycles, then I will make the transition after about 2026.
Alirez, a runner-up in last summer’s Junior World Team Trials, has also excelled in freestyle and caught everyone’s attention at the 2019 Dave Schultz Memorial in January, when he gave former NCAA champ Bryce Meredith a scare (before losing 8-7) and defeated Dean Heil, the former two-time (2016-17) NCAA champ from Oklahoma State, before settling for fourth place.
His victory over Heil confirmed to Alirez he was ready for the Senior level even though he will still shoot to make this year’s Junior World Team.
“I had been watching that dude (Heil) during my high school career,” Alirez recalled. “I was able to get my hands on him at the Schultz. That was a great feeling. It really put in my mind that I’m right there.”
Alirez said his strength as a wrestler is being able to adapt and adjust his style of wrestling.
“When you watch me from tournament to tournament, I look like a different wrestler,” he said. “If you watch me from the Open of last year, and then the Schultz, I wrestled completely different.”
He also said that success at the Schultz made him think that he could be the most dominant high school wrestler in America this winter.
“I may not have had the credentials to back it up then, but that’s the time I started wrestling against current college guys,” he said. “I had the feeling I was on their level. A lot of those guys ended up being All-Americans so I felt pretty good. It gave me a lot of confidence I’m going to go out there and do great things.”