Following a dominant prep career, Nick May left for East Lansing three years ago to take his wrestling career to a new level.
What May wasn’t prepared for was just how massive the jump would be going from Kalamazoo Loy Norrix glory to a fresh start at Michigan State University.
After finishing as the state runner-up his junior and senior seasons, May got a taste of major collegiate competition as a Spartan freshman. May was forced to redshirt, but still got to compete in tournaments – after footing the bill himself.
“You compete when you redshirt, but you’re unattached from the program,” May explained. “They can’t pay for it. That’s what it comes down to, essentially.”
The challenges May faced that season were much deeper than any associated costs. May went 13-8 that season in open tournaments.
“That was pretty grueling, to be honest,” May said. “The transition was tough going from high school where I know most matches I have the upper hand, or am at least capable of beating this person. I went from winning frequently to losing frequently. That was definitely a tough adjustment to make.”
So tough, in fact, that at one point May found himself in the office of coach Roger Chandler, with plans of leaving the program.
“I went in and talked to my coach, and said I think I’m going to try playing football, because that was my first love,” My said. “He basically sat me down and said I’m going to make you reconsider.”
May spent a couple weeks reflecting on his experiences, and a visit home helped him see things more clearly.
“I went back home and saw a lot of people I knew just kind of doing the same thing,” May recalled. “Initially, I wanted to go back home. I was going to try to walk on at Western (Michigan University) or somewhere else for football.
“Basically, I thought ‘this is forcing me to grow. I’m uncomfortable, but that’s really necessary, because I don’t want to be one of those people who stay stagnant.’”
Deciding to stick around, May encountered another challenge his second year. After cutting the necessary weight to wrestle at 184 pounds, May was asked to move up to the 197-pound class.
“Not having to cut weight, that sounds pretty exciting,” May thought. “Cutting to 184 was taking a toll on me mentally. But making that adjustment was pretty difficult.”
Getting a real taste of Big Ten competition, May went 6-22 as a redshirt freshman, including a 2-13 dual record.
“As far as the season, I didn’t have a great season competing…the Big Ten is the toughest wrestling conference in the nation. When you go from wrestling in these tournaments where you can beat some guys and then going and wrestling Big Ten wrestlers on a weekly basis, it took a toll on me.”
One big perk to the bump in weight class was some extra food on the dinner plate.
“At 184, I really watched what I ate,” May said. “I still always try to eat pretty healthy. At 184, that was the only option. Otherwise, making 184 was going to be hell.
“I bumped up to 197, and at that point, I had already lost so much weight I could basically ate what I wanted throughout that whole season. I just basically bumped up my caloric intake as much as I wanted. That was definitely nice.”
Wrestling at 197 as a redshirt sophomore, May entered this season feeling more energetic and stronger than he was starting the prior year at 184. May finds himself battling for a starting spot at the 197-pound class. He also finds himself in a better spot mentally, which may be making the biggest impact on his overall performance.
“I think the biggest thing I have learned is the mental toughness is the most important,” May said. “I’ve lost so many matches, and also won so many matches, just because of where I was at mentally. I lost matches I should have won. I also won matches I probably shouldn’t have, or wasn’t expected to win, because I was mentally focused and in the right spot.”
After starting his career with some startling challenges, May is certainly settling into the right spot early into his third year at MSU.
“It’s a brutal sport, but you wouldn’t want it any other way,” May said. “It’s a love/hate relationship. There’s some days you hate it, but when it’s all said and done at the end of each season, I’m glad I do this sport. The challenges and the ups and downs makes it all worth it at the end of the day.”
This feature series on local athletes competing at the college level is brought to you by Moso Village in Sturgis and Next Level Performance in Schoolcraft. If you or someone you know is trying to get to the next level, click here for more information.