Nash Hutmacher enjoying his return to the mat for Nebraska wrestling

Feb. 14—LINCOLN, Neb. — A surge of joy overtook Nash Hutmacher as he secured his first wrestling victory in nearly four years.

It was Saturday, Jan. 6, and the South Dakota prep wrestling legend, and the newest addition to the Nebraska wrestling program, had just recorded a fall over Wyoming's Mason Ding in 2 minutes and 7 seconds.

The man Nebraska fans nicknamed "The Polar Bear" leapt up, shook hands with his opponent, then cheekily ran around the mat as he pumped his fist towards the crowd at the Devaney Center.

"I just had the biggest smile on my face because it was just like all the wrestling memories and everything started coming back," Hutmacher said. "You remember how much you love the sport that you quit playing for three or four years."

Hutmacher, a decorated wrestler who won four consecutive state championships and set a state-record 73 consecutive pins for Chamberlain High School, went away from the sport after graduating from high school in 2020 to pursue college football.

But now, the Nebraska football blackshirt and starting nose tackle has returned to his dual-sport ways, beginning with his exhilarating start. Wrestling at 285 pounds for the No. 6-ranked Huskers, the Oacoma product has posted a 4-2 record, including three wins in Big Ten competition.

"It's definitely just been fun getting back into it, going from football workouts to wrestling practice," Hutmacher said. "It's been interesting, it took some getting used to but I love doing it so far."

Wrestling this season was not on Hutmacher's radar until Nebraska head wrestling coach Mark Manning reached out to him following the football season, and told him they wanted him to come join the program.

Hutmacher was initially unsure how to react to the sudden offer. But after talking to his parents, and getting support from his defensive line coach, Terrance Knighton, and head football coach, Matt Rhule, he made a decision.

"I was like, you know what, screw it. I'm going to go give it a shot and just kind of see how it goes," Hutmacher recalled.

Hutmacher, who weighed 330 pounds during football, had to lose 45 points to compete in the heavyweight class.

He met with football nutritionist Kristin Coggin, and the wrestling nutritionist Ron Luth, and created an eating schedule. He cut out some carbs for dinner time, and ramped up his cardio.

"For the most part when I was training I was still eating quite a bit. I just upped my workload. ... it was definitely pretty difficult at first but then once I got into the rhythm, into the groove of losing the weight it definitely got a lot easier," Hutmacher said.

He was ready to compete after the new year, making his debut against Wyoming. He experienced a lot of nerves leading up to the march, unsure how'd he perform after so many years away.

But with several of his football coaches and teammates, his mother, and the support staff all in person for the match, he went out and recorded the fall.

"It was honestly just a super special moment to go out there and get the pin like I did, and to just have everyone around me that has supported me and helped me along my journey there," Hutmacher said.

Joining the wrestling program has created a busy schedule for Hutmacher.

When he's not competing on weekends, he is balancing winter football workouts in the morning, and wrestling practice in the afternoon, all while squeezing in school.

It has created a unique dynamic, where he is hanging out with his longtime teammates and friends all morning at football, then spending his afternoons with a "tight-knit group" of wrestling teammates.

"It's been really awesome to meet the rest of the team and get to know those guys. That whole team is just full of awesome dudes who are just workers. They just grind over there," Hutmacher said.

Sometimes, his interactions with the two teams overlap, and Hutmacher stands not sure what to do. For instance, when he goes to eat meals at the Lewis Training Table, he's faced with a grade school-esque dilemma.

"I don't know if I should sit by the football guys or if I should sit by the wrestling guys. It's kind of funny being in those areas where we're all hanging out ... it's cool to be a part of two different programs like that," he said.

The competitions themselves have also been a learning curve. Hutmacher, who was ranked the No. 1 heavyweight wrestler in the nation his senior year of high school, has discovered wrestling in the Big Ten presents a new challenge every week.

In his first Big Ten match, Hutmacher fell to Iowa's Bradley Hill in a 4-1 decision. But since then, he's gotten comfortable, and won three-straight matches by decision, including 5-0 decision against Purdue's Tristan Ruhlman, a wild 19-14 decision over Wisconsin's Gannon Rosenfeld and a 12-9 decision against Illinois' Peter Marinopoulos.

"There's levels to wrestling, and it's just that next level," Hutmacher said. "It definitely took some knocking the rust off to get back into wrestling shape, but like I said, I've loved doing it ... It's going out there and being relentless, being the tougher man out there and just getting it done, even when it doesn't go exactly how you want it to go."

Nebrasksa wrestling will next compete against No. 1-ranked Penn State at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18, in State College, Pennsylvania.