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UKIAH — Nicolas Iversen has always been a heavyweight.

“I was two weeks late,” Iversen said this week in a classroom across the hall from the Ukiah High School gym. “I was born on Feb. 28th, and my mom had to have a C-section because I had a 16½-inch head. I was 10 pounds, 8 ounces, and I think I was 23½ inches long. So I was a big kid.”

Once, during a lesson on gravitation pull, every student in Iversen’s class was weighed. He tipped the scale at right around 150 pounds. He was in third grade.

Now a senior, Iversen stands 6-2 and weighs 285 pounds, or at least he will this morning when he weighs in for the CIF State Boys Wrestling Championships in Bakersfield. Iversen is one of eight Redwood Empire athletes who qualified to wrestle at Rabobank Arena this weekend, along with Maria Carrillo’s Cameron Casey, Cardinal Newman’s Gunnar Hayman and a quintet of Windsor athletes: Beau Colombini, Dominic DuCharme, Anthony Spallino, Perez Perez and Joe Valdes.

Iversen is still a heavyweight, though he doesn’t necessarily look it. He’s big, but there just isn’t a lot of jiggle to this guy. He holds the Ukiah High bench press record at 395 pounds, and is extremely agile for a person his size.

“His lateral movement’s amazing. He’s one of the fastest guys on our team,” said his coach, Thomas Fragoza. “He’s finishing in the top five in all of our sprints and conditioning exercises that we do. And he’s the biggest guy in the room.”

Iversen’s fast-twitch muscle allows him to compete like a wrestler at a much lower weight. Single- and double-leg takedowns and high-c snatches — these are normally the tools of the 150-pounder.

“Nic can do all that stuff, and he can do it against guys his size,” Fragoza said. “And they just don’t know what to do with that. Some of these guys that will place at state will literally not have a takedown or a shot to the legs that they use.”

Iversen, who has worked closely with long-time coach Adam Aikman at Ukiah, had all the physical skills to frustrate opponents as a junior last year. What he lacked, he says, was mental resilience. If he lost a match, Iversen would simmer in the failure. It would affect his performance in other matches.

Fragoza said the turnaround began not in a sweaty wrestling room, but on the trails of the Emigrant Wilderness in Stanislaus National Forest. Fragoza is a big believer in mental and spiritual growth. Each year, he takes a half-dozen or so wrestlers on a backpacking trip. Iversen was part of last year’s excursion. They left right after school ended last June.

“I don’t make it easy on the kids,” Fragoza said. “They’re really excited and they think, ‘Oh, camping!’ And then we get on Mile 10 going uphill and they’re like, ‘Uhh, what did I get myself into?’ ”

They hiked 25 miles in, 25 miles out, with five days of moving and one rest day in the middle. Along the route they talked about everything but wrestling. Often it was contemplative.

“When you’re walking for eight hours straight, you think about life a lot,” Fragoza said. “And I tune kids into that before we leave. I say, ‘Hey, I want you to think about stuff.’ And next thing you know, they’re like, ‘Wow, what am I doing with myself?’ ”

The trip gave Iversen plenty of opportunity to consider his shortcomings on the mat. He began to have more faith in his coaches, and in himself, and he entered his senior year with a new attitude.

“I’m no longer as hesitant,” Iversen said. “I work harder than I’ve ever worked before. I learned to push myself past the wall. And I feel a lot better about myself and how well I wrestle. I don’t have any regrets, or at least not as many as I did.”

Finally, Iversen learned how to put a bad result behind him. That came in handy at the prestigious Doc Buchanan Invitational in Clovis in January. Iversen lost twice but fought his way through the consolation bracket to place fifth.

“We’re actually kind of glad that he lost those matches,” Fragoza said. “I think it really helped him.”

In fact, Iversen hasn’t lost since. He takes a 42-2 record to Bakersfield after winning the 285-pound championship at the North Coast Section championships last weekend. The California Wrestler ranks Iversen No. 10 in the state among heavyweights.

And yet the CIF bracket-makers declined to give Iversen a first-round bye. Cardinal Newman’s Hayman, who finished third at NCS, got one. Iversen didn’t.

“It definitely feels weird to be in a pigtail,” he said, referring to the first-round match. “I’ve never been in one.”

Fragoza believes the lack of big-time competition on the North Coast worked against his wrestler. Most of the elite tournaments, the coach said, are south of Fresno. Fragoza doesn’t like to split up his team, and he felt most of his kids weren’t ready for those meets, so Iversen hasn’t faced many of California’s best big men.

And that makes him something of a wild card in Bakersfield. Anyone discounting him may be in for a surprise.

“I believe Nic is in the top six, for sure, with the ability to end up in the finals if he has a good day (Saturday),” Fragoza said.

Iversen, wrestling in a Wildcats uniform for the final time, is ready for the challenge.

“I definitely want to shock the world,” he said. “I want people to know that Ukiah is no joke and I’m no joke.”

Unfortunately, a big roadblock stands between Iversen and the final. Iversen is in the same half of the bracket as Clovis sophomore Seth Nevills, who was a state champion at 220 pounds as a freshman last year and has laid waste to the heavyweight division this year.

Iversen admitted to being both nervous and excited about the prospect of facing Nevills. He also has reason for hope. Iversen lost to Nevills at the Doc B, but went the distance and was outpointed 5-1. Iversen said he learned some things about Nevills’ tendencies in that match.

Even if Iversen loses to the Clovis kid, he will have a shot at third place, which would allow him to check another box on his Giant List of Goals.

Last summer, Iversen attended two week-long J Robinson Wrestling Camps in Minnesota, named for the camps’ founder and the long-time coach at the University of Minnesota, a program that has won three NCAA championships. At each camp, the wrestlers were directed to create a list of 50 goals — 1-year goals, 5-year goals and 10-year goals.

That was a total of 100 goals for Iversen, and that’s a lot of aspirations. He admits he came up with “probably around 70-ish good ones.” Those included winning a section title and wrestling at the state tournament.

“One of my goals was to have 40 wins and earn white headgear,” Iversen said. “We get different-color headgear for every 10 wins that we have. I’m 42-2 so I get white headgear, and I feel pretty good about it.”

Another item on his list was more audacious. Iversen wants to finish among the top three in Bakersfield, in a field of 20 top-tier heavyweight wrestlers.

“Whether or not that happens,” he said, “it’s better to aim for the stars and miss and hit the moon.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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