Nico Antuna spent most of his freshman season with Centennial’s wrestling team starring in his own version of the popular candy bar commercial.
He wasn’t himself when he was hungry.
“At the beginning of the year, when I got to eat and my weight wasn’t bad, it was fine,” Antuna said. “I would talk to more people. I would be more happy. I would play around with people.
“Once that season started with the weight cut … nobody wanted to talk to me because I was always angry.”
Antuna qualified for last season’s Division I state tournament despite enduring a difficult cut to 106 pounds. Now at a comfortable weight of 132 pounds, he is expected to contend for Sunset Region and state titles as a sophomore.
Antuna will compete at the prestigious Las Vegas Holiday Classic this weekend. The event, which features 69 teams from six states plus the District of Columbia, starts at 10 a.m. Friday at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and the championship finals are scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
“I’m excited to see how he’s going to do this weekend,” Centennial coach Steve Wike said. “Any time you get a big tournament like that, it tells a lot about where a wrestler sits for the season. I think it’ll be a good barometer or gauge on where we need to go from there. If he finds himself on the podium, we’re sitting pretty good at a tournament like the Holiday Classic.”
Antuna hails from a wrestling-centric family and said he started in the sport when he was 3. His brother, Angelo, was a two-time state champion for the Bulldogs and went on to become a professional mixed martial arts fighter.
“Sometimes it’s a lot of pressure, but I’m starting to take it on myself now,” Antuna said. “I’m just doing me now, wrestling how I should and not wrestling for them.”
Antuna was one of the area’s top wrestlers early last season in a stacked 106-pound division, winning the Liberty Classic and the Bulldog Grappler.
But Antuna’s weight cut — he said he was coming down from 126 pounds — took a toll physically, and he wore down by season’s end. Antuna went on to take third at the Sunset Region meet and fourth at state, finishing with a 55-12 record (22 by pin fall).
“Kind of an odd thing happened. Nico grew about 3 inches midseason, and it really threw off his weight-descent plan,” Wike said. “Being a freshman coming in, he felt that being 106s was best for the team. We talked about it; he was certified for it. The growth spurt is what kind of got him. It’s kind of one of the flukes of our weight-management system.”
Antuna said falling short at the state tournament motivated him to work even harder this season, and he has joined senior 113-pounder Ryan Pierce as a leader for the Bulldogs following the departure of 11 seniors.
Antuna enters the Las Vegas Holiday Classic with a 17-2 record (six by fall), and his lone losses at 132 this season are one-point decisions against Arizona state place winners.
“Even though sometimes I’ll get hurt, I still try to work through it no matter what because it’s in the back of my head that last year was a fluke. This year is my year,” Antuna said. “I feel a lot better at this weight. I feel stronger. I’m a lot happier than last year, too. I’m not as grumpy as I used to be. And that actually helps a lot on the mat, too.”
Contact reporter David Schoen at email@example.com or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ