By Rubin E. Grant
Hoover junior Nick Smith had an odd feeling before his Class 7A, 120-pound state championship wrestling match.
“I’m usually stressed out before a match, but this time I kind of felt like I knew the outcome before it happened,” Smith said. “I was joking around and having fun.”
Bucs wrestling coach Jacob Gaydosh also noticed Smith’s seemingly carefree demeanor.
“He was very relaxed,” Gaydosh said. “I don’t remember him being that way going into a match. Just before the match, I said, ‘I love you, Nick,’ and he just answered back, ‘I love you too, coach.’”
Smith said there was a good reason for his pre-match disposition last Saturday at the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s 65th State Wrestling Championships at the Von Braun Center’s Propst Arena in Huntsville.
“I was really feeling myself,” he said. “Sometimes you have that feeling and sometimes you don’t. (Saturday), I had it.”
Smith’s confidence showed on the mat as he defeated Huntsville’s Zander Fields by an 8-0 major decision to earn his first state championship and finish the season with a 37-3 record.
“A lot of preparation and hard work went into the match,” Smith said. “The coaches did a good job of getting me ready. They told me I just needed to wrestle.”
The 5-foot-7-inch Smith entered the state tournament ranked No. 1 at 120 pounds in Class 7A, so he was favored to win. And he acted the part. He pinned Lindrix Cooper of Jeff Davis in 1:11 in his first match, then pinned Thompson’s Cory Jones in 4:27 in the semifinals.
“I knew I was the best in state, so I had more of a mindset to just actually wrestle and prove it,” Smith said.
Smith finished runner-up at 113 pounds with a 46-7 record as a sophomore in 2019, falling to Thompson senior Dylan Lesueur by a 14-2 major decision in the championship match.
The defeat motivated Smith this season.
“Being runner-up obviously hurt a lot,” Smith said. “I felt like I was gaining on (Lesueur) each time we wrestled, then that happened.
“I knew to win a state championship you have to do everything right, so I kept that mindset all year, during the offseason at Ironclad (Wrestling Club in Trussville) and in season with Hoover.”
It took some time for it to sink in that he was actually a state champion.
“It was kind of surreal,” Smith said. “I don’t even think I heard them say over the loudspeaker, ‘Nick Smith, state champion.’ I didn’t know how to react. I kind of thought I knew what it would feel like, but it was so much better. I was totally happy.”
Gaydosh was delighted to see Smith’s hand raised in victory as a state champion.
“I am thrilled for him,” Gaydosh said. “It’s been his dream to win a state championship and for him to fall short last year and get second, and to come back this year and improve as a wrestler and in confidence, it’s awesome. And not just for him, but his parents as well, who have sacrificed so much to get him to this point.”
Gaydosh also praised Hoover assistant coach Ryan Romano for his role in Smith’s becoming a state champion.
“Ryan spent a lot of time in the film room with Nick, as his workout partner and being someone he could talk to,” Gaydosh said. “Ryan was a big contributor to what Nick accomplished.”
Wins for Other OTM Schools
Smith was Hoover’s only individual state champion as the Bucs finished fourth in the team standings with 58 points. Thompson (166.5 points) claimed its third consecutive Class 7A title with Vestavia Hills second (153.5), followed by Huntsville (83), Hoover, Mountain Brook (53) and Spain Park (46).
Spain Park’s Jaxon “Pablo” Bast (44-3) successfully defended his Class 7A 285-pound championship, pinning Tuscaloosa County’s Thor Zogg at 5:00. Bast was named the 7A most valuable wrester.
Vestavia Hills had three individual champions. Sam Willoughby (37-5) defeated Grissom’s Warren Hoyt by a 12-9 decision to win the 170-pound title; John Edwards (38-4) defeated Thompson’s Ashunti Perry by a 3-1 decision for the 160 crown; and Jack Lamey (34-12) defeated Huntsville’s Zeke Smotherman by a 3-1 decision to claim the 145 title in what was named the best match in 7A.
The Rebels also had three wrestlers who were runners-up: Chandler Merrill at 152, Bryant Segars at 126 and Zach Flurry at 106.
Mountain Brook’s Gray Ortis (46-6) won the 138-pound title with a 5-1 decision against Hewitt-Trussville’s Logan Reaves.
In other championship matches, Hoover’s J.T. Foster was 7A runner-up at 182 pounds; Spain Park’s John Robert Thompson was 7A runner-up at 113; and Homewood’s John-Mark Crocker was 6A runner-up at 182.