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Photo: Penn State’s Bo Nickal (right) scored 35 of his career 59 pins the past two winters and earned the Schalles Award each season.
By Mike Finn
Bo Nickal may be the most famous “Bo” since Bo Jackson, the former multi-professional sport athlete of the 1980s, who capitalized on his fame with the “Bo Knows” commercials.
But there are a lot of differences between these men with the same first name and not just because Bo is Nickal’s given name, and not a nickname that Jackson showcased with the Kansas City Royals or Oakland Raiders.
Nickal, who recently capped off his final season at Penn State with a third national championship and won the 2019 Hodge Trophy, admitted he does not know everything when it comes to wrestling.
“We have 35 guys on the team and everyone one of them does something better than I do so I have something to learn from every single guy on the team,” said Nickal. The native of Allen, Texas, said that attitude is also part of his style which helped him earn the 2019 Schalles Award, presented by WIN Magazine, as the nation’s top pinner for a second straight year.
That included teammate and fellow three-time national champion Jason Nolf, who had three less pins (15) than Nickal’s 18 falls this past winter but finished one pin ahead of Nickal (60-59) in career falls at Penn State.
Together, they enjoyed being creative with their pins on the college mats.
“That’s one thing that Nolf and I do a lot,” Nickal said. “We are always play wrestling and making up moves and try to figure things out. That’s what makes the sport fun for me.”
And possibly no college wrestler caught so much attention as Nickal, who moved up to 197 pounds this past winter after finishing second nationally at 174 pounds in 2016 and first at 184 pounds in 2017 and ’18.
“In the world of pro wrestling, Bo would be referred to as a “big draw”, the headliner, the person people come to see,” said Wade Schalles, the legendary pinner and two-time national champion (1972-73) at Clarion (Pa.), and who created the award in 1999. “He’s not only the most dominant wrestler in college wrestling today, he’s mythical, and he makes pinning look easy.
“There hasn’t been anyone like him since Randy Lewis and Gene
Mills. And, as I mentioned last year when (Nickal) won this award, he reminds me of someone I know rather well. When he gets his chance internationally, every opponent from Russia to Iran will fear his skills, and hope their matches will last 6 minutes.”
Nickal admitted he gets inspired by learning more about past wrestlers.
“An awesome part about wrestling is the amount of great wrestlers in this sport and Wade Schalles was definitely one of them and someone who was legendary and iconic in the sport,” Nickal said. “I never got a chance to watch him wrestle but from the stories I’ve heard from a lot of different people, I think we have similar mindsets in the way we look at the sport.”
And throughout Nickal’s career, many of his falls have come at incredible times, like when he pinned Ohio State’s Myles Martin in the 2018 NCAA final … or the more difficult arenas like he did on Feb. 8 in Columbus, Ohio, where he pinned eventually national runner-up Kollin Moore of Ohio State.
“That one was big,” Nickal said. “It was a cool moment. I’ve gotten to wrestle in a lot of awesome arenas; and to been able (to get a pin) in an opposing team’s venue where their fan base has been very exciting.”
Nickal said pinning is a mindset he’s developed.
“It’s great to get takedowns and rack up technical falls, but getting the pin is the most exciting part because you can end (the match) there,” said Nickal, adding that he uses both skills he’s had since he was young to see pinning holds before other wrestlers do and obviously hard work to get falls. “I do have natural instincts and can tell where someone is going to move; if they are pressuring me a certain way and how they are going to respond if I pressure them back.
Nickal also has learned to deal with a number of opponents who shut down their offense because of his reputation as a pinner.
“That’s been part of my career as I’ve gotten better,” he said. “It adds to the challenge, which is the fun part because I know these guys are trying to do everything they can not to get pinned. It’s like a puzzle and ups the difficulty a little bit.”
Like Bo Jackson and Wade Schalles, Nickal may have created a legacy that many will be talking about down the road.
“I just hope people look back on my college wrestling career and will have enjoyed watching me compete and knew that every time I stepped on the mat I was going to give 100 percent and make something exciting happen,” he said.
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