Every school has a star athlete or two every single year. Well, the athlete is a star in the eyes of the school district and there is no evidence to back it up. The athlete usually gets this after a stellar youth career in the pinnacle of sports like football or basketball. The scenario is a smidge bit different for 20-year-old Nicholas Kozlowski who resides in a small town in Western New York. Kozlowski became a standout wrestler for Portville Central School District Western New York and even New York State. However, he had an interesting road to get there. One that did not get started, at least for real, until the seventh grade.
Kozlowski attempted wrestling at the age of six. He admitted, “I was on the team for five minutes because I thought it was WWE and hated it. I said I was done and walked out.” Fast-forward years later, Portville modified head Charlie Backus approached him about joining the modified wrestling squad. He played all sports including baseball and football up until that year. He said “I thought it was just going to be another sport. I was going to go out and do it and when the season ended I would be done with it.” He certainly exceeded his expectations, especially those of “just doing all right.”
Kozlowski’s wrestling career would take off just a short time later. There was a monumental moment that allowed this to happen. This involved a three-time NYS wrestling champion and two-time NCAA champion. Jeff Prescott won the most outstanding wrestler at both tournaments one time. Prescott then coached Jupiter Christian (FL) high school to a team state title in 2006. This was the man who approached Kozlowski and asked him to join his team in Olean New York at his wrestling school. This came after a match against Maple Grove (NY) standout AJ Putt, the cousin of Kozlowski. The skill was evident to Prescott because he approached him at the first-ever youth wrestling tournament Kozlowski ever competed in.
When asked about how Prescott’s success played into his decision to join the team he said, “I didn’t know anything about him. I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know anything about the sport.” So how did he make his decision? He said “I went home, did a little bit of research on him. I typed in his name and so much popped up.” Kozlowski instantly knew. The now 20-year-old added: “I was mind-blown a man like that found me and told me I had potential.”
He explained, “I always thought football was going to be the sport I fell in love with and I would go to college for.” He even alluded to his hope of joining the NFL. That all changed after a hamstring injury on the football field. He knew he would not be as fast as he was before and the thought process allowed him to fall in love with the sport of wrestling. He said, “without even thinking twice I completely fell in love with it.”
He alluded to a unique feature the sport of wrestling has by saying “when you lose a match you can never blame a coach for a wrong call or a teammate. It was always on you. It is basically two gladiators fighting to the death.”
When you mess up, you know it. In the sport of wrestling, he has many memories of this exact thing. He said, “a prime example of knowing you did the wrong thing was when I was wrestling a kid from Coudersport (PA). He threw a leg on me, reached across my body and I said right there, oh shit.” It wasn’t just morally wrong, his technique was off too and he started studying every single match on film after this match.
His dedication to the sport became evident in the public eye when he would watch his matches back. He recalls his main objective was to learn and he even continued this into the college level. “Eventually, after watching those mistakes over and over, you begin not to make them anymore.” His mother, Tina, gave her perspective saying her son would watch the videos on her computer and he would phone Prescott to get better. This continued all through his college years.
He is disappointed with the state of the sport. During his era at Portville, he saw state champions coming out of the small towns and now he doesn’t. There were state champions that maybe should not have been. The camaraderie between the wrestlers is not there anymore with the new group. During his time, Kozlowski would even coach some of his opponents when their coaches were not available. “The difference between wrestling and any other sport is you train all year long.”
Kozlowski still remembers that moment that he clashed with Willie, Justin and Warren McDougald at the STOWA tournament. STOWA is a prestigious tournament in the area and Kozlowski always looked forward to it. He said, “I came out of STOWA and swept everybody. I was, at the time, a “no-name”. He continued by saying that small school kids knew who he was until the McDougalds. That would all change as Kozlowski became a staple. This moment was the one where he took down the top-ranked wrestler in the state.
The question is when did he find the spark. The answer was when another wrestler injured Kozlowski to the point where he was lying motionless. This was during his sophomore year which he described by saying “it was a big year. He said, “At that point, I knew I had a target on my back and if I had a target on my back it was for a reason.” As for the emotion going through his mom’s head, she said it was just another sports injury. On the move that caused the injury, she said: “In my mind, it was not the best move a kid could make against another wrestler.” If anywhere, it was here where the Kozlowski’s knew everything happened for a reason. She said, “That’s where I gained a lot more respect for Shane and Ryan Hetrick because they were yelling for paramedics.” At that point, the wrestling world knew he would make the state his junior or senior year if he returned. As for this incident, he said: “It put a drive in me like no other.”
Years later, he would get his revenge at a college tournament. This came after McCoy bragged about injuring Kozlowski earlier in his career. Kozlowski said, “I said I’m going to make him regret what he did to me in high school.” Something clicked during that match and he wanted it so bad that he did not even think about what he was doing. He wanted revenge so bad that he said: “I can honestly say I don’t remember the match at all.” That feeling was one that he felt one other time. That was the summer of his sophomore year when he would win his first of four national titles. The one dedicated to his sister who was diagnosed with cancer. Prescott always saw the spark inside Kozlowski and everyone believes that is what allowed him to win.
As for the inspiration besides his sister, he described one important friendship. It was a friendship that would grow more into a brotherhood. It was the friendship between him and a brother of one of his friends. The kid was in a wheelchair and Kozlowski said: “It’s like having a best friend be your biggest fan, but in the same retrospect, it’s like having a brother who inspires you and is there whenever you need him.” Along with that friendship, he credits the sister of Caiden Mooney. Joelle Scott is an animal on the mat. The youngster took after Kozlowski’s wrestling partner and her brother Mooney. Mooney was a PA state representative. Scott is a PA girl’s state titleholder. Most impressively, she is a Vegas Freakshow winner. He said he owes a tremendous credit to Portville wrestling boss Matt Milne. Milne drove with Kozlowski over three thousand miles in one week during his senior year to ready for state. Kozlowski gives Milne credit for helping him get to where he is today
As for the future plans, he said they were “under wraps” but he alluded to a possibility of UFC. He warns fans to be ready for “a 2.0 story” in the future.
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