EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 25, 2012

Courageous wrestler

Ex-Owl heavyweight Nicoll coming back strong from troubling neck injury

By Dave Dyer
ddyer@eagletribune.com

---- — Once Brian Nicoll makes up his mind about something important, he is not about to change it.

The former Timberlane standout, who was a New England heavyweight champion as a junior for the Owls and a New England finalist as a senior, made that perfectly clear after his freshman year on the Rhode Island College wrestling team.

Despite battling a painful neck injury, which required three cortisone shots just to finish the season, Nicoll compiled a 19-12 record and finished fourth in the Division 3 New Englands.

But it was not easy and, when diagnosed with a herniated disc that he knew would bench him for his entire sophomore season, he questioned whether it was wise to continue his career on the mat.

“I thought about quitting,” said Nicoll. “College wrestling is a lot more stressful (than high school) and, even though it’s not like Division 1, it’s a big commitment. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep going.”

Nicoll delayed his decision while taking the next year off resting his neck. That turned out to be wise, at least for Rhode Island College.

“The year off from wrestling made me want to go after it again,” said Nicoll, now a red-shirt junior captain. “I was missing it a lot and I wanted to see what I could do.”

It wasn’t quite that simple, however. Because of the severity of his neck injury, two doctors refused to give him the clearance to wrestle again. Finally, Nicoll found a doctor who reluctantly gave him the okay.

“He said I could wrestle again, but he wasn’t enthusiastic about it,” said Nicoll, who has a double major of history and political science. “He said I’d be taking a risk.”

Last year, it took awhile for Nicoll to get back his strength and into top wrestling shape. So he started the year late and wrestled only 15 matches, winning 10. After another offseason of lifting and conditioning, Nicoll entered this season feeling more like his old self ... and maybe even better.

“Strength-wise, I think I’m there and maybe stronger than ever,” he said. “I really dedicated myself after last year to some heavy lifting.”

The results seem to support that claim. He’s gotten off to a 13-3 start with two of the losses coming to All-Americans. Showing the same kind of defensive prowess as in high school, he didn’t allow a point to be scored on him in 10 of his matches.

“I’ve always been good at countering moves and defense, but I’ve been trying to open up more,” said Nicoll.

Nicoll’s comeback hasn’t gone unnoticed by RIC coach Jay Jones. Far from it.

“Brian has been dealing with a neck injury ...and we were concerned that he may not have been able to see his career to fruition,” said Jones. “The neck is not something like a shoulder or knee, where even if injured you will still be able to function after surgery. The neck can be a scarier situation especially for a wrestler, and long-term quality of life was the primary concern.

“Brian was very understandably very nervous about returning last fall from the injury. He was very courageous to put it on the line for the opportunity to reach his goals. For me as a coach, I am very proud to have him back wearing a maroon singlet.”

As far as his goals for the season, Nicoll has tried not to get too specific.

“I just wanted to see if I could put it all together and have a good season,” he said. “I’m off to a good start.”

And the good thing is that, with an extra year of eligibility due to the year off, Nicoll can get more specific with his goals next year.

Jones thinks, by then, the sky’s the limit.

“Brian has yet to reach his full potential as I always viewed him as a collegiate All-American,” said Jones. “He has been through a tremendous amount on and off the mat, and I can’t wait to see him on that national podium.”.

"The neck can be a scarier situation especially for a wrestler, and long term quality of life was the primary concern." -- Rhode Island College coach Jay Jones