By JEREMY HINES
Greenwood senior Nick Willham has won two wrestling sectional titles, been one win away from advancing to the state meet and is currently ranked No. 9 at 182 pounds – but he’s got a way to go before he can become the alpha dog at the family Christmas party.
That’s because Willham has three older cousins that have combined to qualify for the state meet 11 times, placed nine times and have a total record of 542-40. Willham’s cousins are Indiana legends Doug, Chad and Luke Welch.
“My cousins really got me started on wrestling,” Willham said. “I remember watching Luke at the state finals, and that got me going. I’ve learned so much from them. I’ve worked out with them in the summer and they have taught me everything from getting better on my feet, to my top and bottom game.”
Willham started wrestling in sixth grade. He has always had an athletic build and has excelled in sports – but things weren’t easy early on for the Greenwood grappler.
“My freshman year wasn’t too hot,” Willham said. “I was like 16-27. It was very discouraging having that losing record. I got beat up every day and when that happens you start to think you don’t want to do it anymore. It sucked. Instead of giving up, it motivated me to get better.”
Willham devoted more time to his wrestling after his rough freshman season. He worked in the offseason, went to tournaments and started developing more technique. It paid off.
As a sophomore Willham finished with a 37-12 record. He earned his first sectional championship and eventually advanced to semistate before he was beaten by Evansville Mater Dei’s phenom, Joe Lee.
Willham continued to improve his junior year. He finished 35-4, won sectional again, and this time made it to the ticket round at semistate before losing a 4-3 heartbreaker to Columbus East’s Andy Davidson.
So far this season Willham is 5-0 and is currently wrestling at 195 pounds.
“Nick has increased two weight classes every year,” Greenwood coach Jay Yates said. “We’ve cut him down a little every year. This year we’re letting him go. We’re letting him eat and letting him be strong.”
Willham has set his sights on a state title this year.
“I want to win everything,” he said. “Last year I scouted opponents a little bit, but that took the focus off of myself. This year I’m focusing on what I need to do. I am not scouting, I just want to wrestle my match.”
Coach Yates said Willham is a goofy kid that likes to joke around and have fun with the team. He gives the entire team nicknames, including the coaching staff.
“He calls me the bald eagle,” Yates said. “Obviously, because I’m bald. We have another coach named Rockwell, and Nick calls him the boulder. He even gave himself a nickname – ham.”
But, when it comes time to wrestle, Willham takes things much more seriously. He’s hoping the renewed focus and the hard work will continue to push him toward his ultimate goal – to win a state title, and possibly, be able to push his cousins around a little bit.