When Nick Czar leaves Highland in late June to begin basic training at the United States Naval Academy, he will take with him many great memories of being a member of the Bulldogs wrestling and football programs.
And also one memory he would like to change.
Looking to earn the Bulldogs their third straight Class 2A state championship at 285 pounds, Czar saw his dream of an undefeated season and state crown end on a cold winter night at the State Farm Center in Champaign, when he dropped a 2-0 decision to Michael Johnson of Lombard Montini.
“It was very disappointing to come up three points short of my ultimate goal, but I can’t say the whole season was a failure because I lost that one match,’’ Czar said. “It was a great year and I had a chance to meet and compete with a lot of good people who helped me along the way. I’m very appreciative of their support.
“I felt this year I was mentally stronger and also physically stronger. Before, some of the bigger guys were able to throw me around. This year I felt I was one of the strongest guys in my bracket. I got a bit of a reality check in the championship round.’’
The Mississippi Valley Conference and a Class 2A regional and sectional champion, Czar finished his senior season with a record of 40-1 and was voted by metro-east wrestling coaches as the Belleville News-Democrat co-Wrestler of the Year for the 152- through 285-pound weight classes. Czar shares the honor with Triad junior Cole Witzig.
A three-time Class 2A state qualifier in wrestling, Czar will put his wrestling career on hold — at least for the next year — while he gets acclimated to the demanding life of being a student-athlete at Navy. A two-way starter for a Highland football team which won the MVC title, Czar will begin football practice at Navy at the conclusion of basic training.
As for now, Czar is in training for basic training.
“It will be tough to leave my family and friends, but I’m excited about the opportunity and looking forward to what the future will bring,” Czar said. “I know basic (training) will be demanding so I’m training right now — long-distance running, cross training and working on my endurance — so that I’m in the best possible shape when I leave.
“Football practice begins after basic is over and I’m really looking forward to that. My goal is to dress for games. I don’t know if or how much I’ll play, but I want to at least dress for games.’’
While Czar didn’t overwhelm his opponents at the state tournament this year, he was never really threatened as he moved into the state title match against the highly touted Johnson.
One of the top-ranked heavyweights in the state for the past two years, Johnson was pinned by another Highland wrestler — Tanner Farmer — in the 2014 state title match. Farmer now plays football at the University of Nebraska.
But this year, Johnson took out his frustrations from his previous state tournament setback against Czar.
“My game plan going into the state title match was to take a shot in the first period but nothing too risky. Looking back, I probably should have been more aggressive,’’ Czar said. “The second period I was on the bottom and I wanted to at least get away and score that way. He (Johnson) was by far the strongest and best wrestler on his side of the bracket. He kept hip pressure on me and I just couldn’t get an escape.
“The third period he (Johnson) chose bottom. I just couldn’t hold him. Like I said, he was very strong and a very good wrestler.’’
While Czar will not be wrestling at Navy during his freshman season, but there may be hope that he could wear the Navy wrestling uniform in the future. That is after he gets used to the demands of the Naval Academy.
“I talked to the wrestling coach and he said that they would love to have me,’’ Czar said. “When I asked the football coaches if I could, they said there was no way I would be able to do both in my first year as I would need to adjust to a different culture, learn how to deal with the high academic standards and everything that goes with that and also playing football. It would be too much.
“But they did say that maybe my sophomore year I could try it. We’ll see how things go.’’