For Nick Lankford, making the transition from a high school state champion to a college wrestler hasn’t been easy.
Lankford, the two-time wrestling state champion from Flowery Branch High feels that even though he had to work hard to win the state meet, he has to work even harder to be successful at Newberry College.
“It’s a lot tougher,” Lankford said. “It’s a toll on the body. It’s a constant struggle.”
Lankford learned a lot of the basics at Flowery Branch, which he carried through to his college career, and his style hasn’t changed much, but the Newberry program, currently ranked No. 5 in NCAA Division II wrestling programs, challenges him to push through adversity.
“The practice room is just a lot more physical and the training is a lot more intense,” Lankford said. “I just have to keep moving forward, keep pushing through things.”
Lankford said that the Newberry coaches have spent a lot of time helping him work more on “firing shots” and making moves when he’s on his feet.
For someone used to being at the top, Lankford said it was different having to work his way up the ladder again.
“It was a lot tougher going from starting all four years to getting back up there,” he said, “but it was just great to be able to start.”
Despite the competition among the members of the Newberry team for starting positions, Lankford said he gets along well with his teammates.
“The room is always intense,” Lankford said. “Everyone is giving 100 percent all the time. Everyone is just trying to beat everyone.
“I like the team a lot. They’re real great guys. I love cutting up with them. They’re fun people.”
The wrestling may be difficult, but Lankford said the sport wasn’t the most difficult part of his transition.
“Really the schooling got me the first semester,” he said. “Just having that much freedom, I had to keep up my grades, but I learned pretty quick.”
Even though moving into an elite college program was challenging, Lankford has seen success on the mat recently. He placed third in the 133-pound weight class at the St. Andrews University Pembroke Classic tournament, and just before the holidays, he wrestled again in the Midwest Classic, a tournament that he would consider the highlight of his college career so far.
Lankford may not have placed in the tournament, but having just come out of his redshirt, he considers it a success.
“I won my first match by pin and then lost second 12-5,” he said. “Then I won my third by pin and lost the fourth 3-2 to the kid who ended up winning third.”
After the Midwest Classic, Lankford headed home for a short holiday break. He noted that he loves coming home to see his family, but wrestling was still on his mind.
“I went back to a high school practice and one with my old club team,” he said. “It was real helpful to train with them.”
Practice or not, Lankford comes back to see his former coaches because of the ways they’ve impacted him.
“They’ve been a really big part of my life,” he said.
Lankford’s goals for the season are to make it to the national tournament and be named an All-American, but for now it’s back to the grind and the competition with his team.