For a decade, Andrew Nicola was one of U-Haul’s most valued customers, but somehow during his twisting, winding wrestling coaching journey, Brother Martin High School was often intertwined.
And during one of the darkest moments in his coaching career, it was former Brother Martin wrestling coach Rob Dauterive who reached out with an offer to help.
“He asked several years ago ‘When are you coming down here?’ And I think he was serious then, but maybe joking too,” Nicola said. “But when I lost my job in Nebraska. … I came here for my camp in July, and coach said ‘I’m ready to retire. Are you ready to come take over?’
“I’ve only been here about six months, but finally the discussions he and I had are coming to fruition.”
Less than a month after Dauterive resigned as head coach of the Division I state champions, Brother Martin hired Nicola as his successor, helping keep the momentum going for one of the state's most dominant wrestling programs.
Nicola’s coaching career began at Culver Academy in Indiana, helping deliver the school its first individual state champion in the school’s 121-year history at the time. He quickly vaulted into the college ranks at Calumet College of St. Joseph, an NAIA-level school, before two years as an assistant at the University of Central Missouri.
In 2014, he first heard from Brother Martin graduate James Casadaban while coaching at Cumberland University, with the former Crusader and Cumberland graduate pushing for Nicola to start a summer wrestling camp in the Crescent City, which he did for six years. During his time in Tennessee, Nicola also learned of the Brother Martin tradition while coaching graduates Kyle Delaune and Ross Brister.
Two years after joining NCAA Division II power Cal Baptist, he took his first college head coaching position with the NAIA’s Concordia.
But despite being honored as the Great Plains Athletic Conference Coach of the Year and the NAIA North Region Coach of the Year in 2017, Nicola’s time in the Midwest was cut short, as the program steered in a different direction and fired him in April of 2018.
“Not all that often does a program headed in the right direction let go of their head coach,” he said. “It was a bummer at the time, but it turned into a blessing.”
Dauterive wasted little time in his hasty recruitment of Nicola, who had an offer from West Point, along with a couple of other colleges, but he didn’t need much convincing after the relationships he’d built with various members of the program over the years.
“I remember how much impact you can really have on someone’s passion for the sport (in high school),” he said. “It’s my goal to have younger guys fall in love with the sport and find this intrinsic will to win”
During his six months with Brother Martin, he was briefed on the program’s rich history within the state , but he also got a front-row seat to see where it stands nationally. They competed against some of the top teams in New Jersey and Florida in out-of-state showcases, and he saw how much further his team had to go to reach national prominence.
“We went to New Jersey and guys got to face guys that were No. 1 in the country. A guy like Alex Duncan, a state champion, got pinned in 30 seconds,” he said. “We’ve got to know there’s a higher level. We’ve got guys that want to get on that level, and I’m happy to seek out that type of competition.”
And that’s what Nicola meant when he said in the school’s release about his hiring of wanting to “take this program to a level it’s never been before.” The school’s 19 state wrestling titles turn heads locally, but he wants his wrestlers to compete with some of the nation’s best.
To him, that also means helping develop the strength of wrestling locally through camps and heated district competition.
“When we beat someone like Holy Cross, who had a heck of a team this year, I want it to mean more than just ‘Oh, you beat Holy Cross or Jesuit’,” he said. “I don’t want this team to just be state-known. We want the state to grow, and there’s a way to do that.”
His team returns five of its nine state finalists, and in his core, he sees a couple guys including juniors Mason Massicot and Alex Duncan, who have the potential to be nationally known a year from now.
“This is a mental game,” he said. “If you want to be the best and train like the best, you can do that. But I always say I can’t make them want it for themselves.”