Michigan State s Nick Simmons making sudden impact at 133
Michigan State senior Nick Simmons is still weighing his options.
But any questions about his ability to contend for a national title at 133 pounds were answered in a big way on Sunday.
The three-time All-American at 125 pounds showed he can be just as successful at the next-highest weight class when he knocked off reigning 133-pound NCAA champion and top-ranked Matt Valenti of Penn 2-0 in the finals of the Michigan State Open.
Even with the win over Valenti and even though he's unbeaten over the season's first two weekends at 133, Simmons still is contemplating dropping back down to 125 for his final collegiate season.
"I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do," Simmons said Monday. "I've already certified at 125 and I have until February to make my decision. Right now, I don't know what I will do. I may go down to 125 by Midlands. Making 125 is not a problem for me. It's just a matter of seeing what happens."
Michigan State coach Tom Minkel knows Simmons can be a force at 133.
"Nick is hoping to validate he can compete at 133, and beating Valenti, that's validation right there," Minkel said. "Nick is a three-time All-American and two-time Big Ten champion. The only thing left for him is to win a national title. That's a priority for us.
"Nick has always cut a lot of weight and managed it pretty successfully. We'll just give it time and then make a decision on which weight he will wrestle."
Simmons scored a reversal with 30 seconds left in his 2-0 win over Valenti. Simmons rode Valenti the entire second period. No riding time was kept since it was an open tournament. Simmons is now 9-0 this season after winning the Eastern Michigan Open the previous weekend at 133.
"That was a big win for me," Simmons said. "Especially with the caliber of wrestler Matt is and especially with me wrestling up a weight class. It's a good way to start the season."
If Simmons does move up to 133, the Spartans will still be strong at 125. Redshirt freshman Franklin Gomez has won two tournaments and is 10-0 this season at 125. If Simmons drops down to 125, Gomez will bump up to 133. Gomez is a past double Junior Nationals champion who finished second to Henry Cejudo at the Junior World Team Trials this summer.
"Gomez is a good wrestler, no doubt about it," Simmons said. "He has a good shot at being an All-American at both weight classes."
The lanky, 5-foot-10 Simmons wants to be more than an All-American this year after finishes of seventh, fourth and fourth in his first three trips to the NCAA Championships.
Simmons entered the NCAA Championships last season as the No. 1 seed at 125 with a 32-0 record. He pinned his first three foes at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City before being upset 2-1 by Cornell's Troy Nickerson in the semifinals. He rebounded to beat Oklahoma State's Coleman Scott before falling to Oklahoma's Sam Hazewinkel for the second straight year in the third-place match.
"The last two years have been really disappointing at nationals," Simmons said. "I'm going to try to make sure it doesn't happen again. What happened last year definitely motivates me this year."
Hazewinkel and Nickerson return at 125 this year with Scott bumping up to 133. Simmons was ranked third in the preseason at 125 with Nickerson first and Hazewinkel second.
Simmons is scheduled to face Scott at 133 this Thursday when Michigan State wrestles at Oklahoma State in the Spartans' first dual meet of the season. Simmons beat Scott both times they met last year at 125.
"It should be a good match," Simmons said. "He's a tough wrestler."
Minkel said a number of factors have led to Simmons being successful on the mat. Simmons is 106-18 in college with 37 pins.
"First and foremost, Nick is very competitive," Minkel said. "He has great composure and mental toughness when he's in a match. He's not just trying to score more points than you, he's always looking for a way to pin you. He's unorthodox, he has unique skills and he has a legendary Spladle that he catches people with. And he's far stronger than he looks. He doesn't look like a powerful kid, but he is very strong with his length and his leverage."
Simmons also is a top international wrestler in freestyle at 55 kg/121 pounds. He won the Pan American Championships in 2004 and placed sixth at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials. He made the U.S. National Team the next year after placing third at the 2005 U.S. World Team Trials. He placed fifth at the 2005 World University Games.
He said he plans to cut back to 121 for freestyle once he completes his collegiate career.
"I like freestyle a lot," Simmons said. "I'm a little more dangerous in freestyle because of how unorthodox I am."
Simmons didn't wrestle as much as he wanted to internationally this year after battling a neck and shoulder injury. He did compete at June's World University Championships in Mongolia, but failed to place after going 1-1 at 60 kg/132 pounds. He also took some time off after injuring his knee late in the summer.
Simmons is from Williamston, Mich., located just seven miles from the Michigan State campus. His father, Scott, also wrestled for the Spartans. Simmons was a remarkable 211-0 with 178 pins at Williamston High School, leading his team to a pair of state titles.
Simmons is majoring in social sciences and human resources. He's scheduled to graduate this spring.
Nick Simmons is not the only member of his family looking to win a national title this year. His younger brother, Andy, is ranked second at 141 pounds. Andy Simmons placed fifth at the 2006 NCAA meet.
The Simmons brothers are both seniors. Nick, who just turned 24, is a year older than Andy. But they are both in their final year of eligibility since Nick redshirted during the 2001-02 season and then took an Olympic redshirt during the 2003-04 season.
With the Big Ten Championships being held at Michigan State this season and the NCAA Championships set for The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., a couple weeks later, the Simmons brothers envision a memorable ending to their college careers.
"It's pretty amazing, knowing we get to finish this season at home," Nick said. "We're excited to have a chance to finish on top here. That would be great.