By JAMIE BAKER
VAN BUREN — Mohawk wrestling coach Nathan Lofay wasn’t really worried whether senior Nick Theis would win the 220-pound championship match at Saturday’s 40th Van Buren Invitational.
He was simply glad to see Theis back on the mat.
Theis battled through a back injury during the entirety of Mohawk’s football season, in which it advanced to the OHSAA playoffs. He, finally, got back on the mat for the Warriors last weekend and won his first three matches before dropping a 15-10 decision to Sandusky St. Mary’s returning state qualifier Chris Kuhn in the final.
Lofay had been waiting and looking forward to Theis’ return for quite awhile.
“It’s been a year and one week. He went 9-0 at the Napoleon Duals last year and came back on Monday morning and snapped a bone in his hand. It was the first 10 minutes of practice,” Lofay said. “We were so disappointed because he wrestled so well, but he just couldn’t come back last year.
“I am beyond excited. I’m very emotional as a coach and I don’t know if I have been this excited to get a kid back like I was when Nick stepped on the mat this weekend. I’m loving it.”
Theis gutted out the football season with his injury. He played mostly on defense, but did go both ways toward the end of the year. Playing with a bad back, he was the Northern 10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
“I’ve had injuries the last couple of years and then they told me early in the football season I had a herniated disc in my back,” Theis said. “It was really disappointing. It not only affected football, but I knew it would be tough for wrestling too.
“The doctor told me those two sports wouldn’t be the best thing to do. I was hesitant on what to do, so talked to my coaches, made a game plan, took a month or so off and here I am.
“I made it though my first week of wrestling practice, but it wasn’t easy. The coaches really pushed me in practice, let’s just say it wasn’t fun.”
Theis wasn’t even sure he’d be able to wrestle this season. When he stepped on the mat on Friday night at Van Buren for his first match of the season, there was a wide range of emotions.
“It was a little bit of everything when I got out there on Friday night. I was nervous and a little worried, but I told myself to just go out and do my best,” Theis said. “I wanted to do as well as I could, but I didn’t want to kill myself and ruin the rest of the season.
“My main goal to do well at sectionals, districts and state. I knew this tournament would be a good measuring stick to see where I am at and what I need to do.”
He posted a pair of pins and a win by decision before reaching the final against Kuhn. He was rusty but gave the St. Mary’s senior a solid match. Theis kept it within a couple of points through most of the three periods.
“I was hard on him in the finals,” Lofay said. “He just doesn’t have the mat awareness that he needed yet. I’m sure that will come with time and getting some more matches before the end of the season. It sucks that he lost, but it’s a good learning experience and he’ll only get better because of it.”
“I’m hopeful he’ll have a good weekend at Sandusky this week. Our goal is to have him ready and full-go by the Northern 10 tournament, so we can see what he can do maybe against Upper Sandusky’s Connor Johnston.”
Lofay has high hopes for Theis. He’s hoping he’ll be able to get back into form in a month and challenge the top 220-pounders in the district, like Kuhn, for a spot at the OHSAA state tournament.
In the meantime, he’s just glad to have Theis back in the lineup.
“There was a time when he really didn’t want to wrestle. I couldn’t have blamed him, either. You have a serious back injury you’re dealing with, why risk it?” Lofay said.
“He has have been through the emotional and physical part of it. It’s a process, he basically had to start over muscle-wise and conditioning-wise. It’s amazing that he’s back at all after what he’s been though the last year. Now, we’ll finally get the chance to see what Nick can do.”
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By JAMIE BAKER