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With Maryland wrestling, Seth Nevills is back in his comfort zone

Nevills considered giving up wrestling before coming to Maryland. Now he’s the Terps’ top heavyweight.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

By Max Schaeffer

When Seth Nevills pinned Maryland’s Jordan Gabriel to the mat in February, he took off his headgear and gestured appreciatively to the Penn State crowd. A four-year member of the illustrious Nittany Lions wrestling program, he finished the dual meet in style, capping a Big Ten title-clinching win for his team. But Nevills, usually stuck behind All-American Greg Kerkvliet in the team’s rotation, assumed his career was coming to an end.

This season, Nevills is making the most of a new opportunity as the Terps’ starter in the heavyweight division.

After a November practice, every Maryland wrestler streamed out of the gym except one. It took 10 minutes for Nevills to finally emerge, gasping for breath. He had just finished his post-practice sprints, part of his rigorous routine to get back into match-level conditioning.

Nevills, a native of Clovis, California, comes from a wrestling family. His three older brothers wrestled at Division I schools, including Nick, who also wrestled at Penn State.

“All of us would just gang up on my dad and wrestle my dad,” Nevills said. “Then we all kind of just followed in line of my oldest brother and continued to wrestle.”

Even so, no member of the Nevills family had expectations quite as high as Seth’s coming out of high school. Ranked as the No. 10 recruit in the nation by FloWrestling, Nevills ended his high school career with a 169-1 record, winning four straight state championships.

“He is, I think, as elite a talent as there is,” Maryland head coach Alex Clemsen said.

But Nevills’ career as a Nittany Lion took a windy path. After winning 20 of his first 23 matches, he dropped four of his last five as a sophomore. Nevills then saw a significant cut to his time on the mat during his junior and senior seasons, primarily sitting behind Kerkvliet.

Nevills considered whether he wanted to continue wrestling. Eventually, he decided to enter the transfer portal and landed in College Park for a graduate year.

As a 24-year-old, Nevills brings a unique perspective to Maryland. He lives off-campus with his wife, Arisa, who he credits for providing unwavering support and constructive criticism.

Nevills tries to strike a delicate balance between mentorship and camaraderie with his teammates. Both he and Clemsen hope he can be a leader for the younger members of the team.

“I just try to hold everyone accountable from things that I have learned and mistakes that I have done,” Nevills said. “And having fun with them also — having them keep me young.”

In team duals, the heavyweight is the last wrestler to take the mat. Clemsen likens his heavyweight wrestlers to closers in baseball, hoping that Nevills can be lights-out, like Mariano Rivera in his prime.

Maryland’s first major dual of the season came against Pittsburgh, and it needed Nevills to defeat nationally-ranked Dayton Pitzer by at least three points to secure a win. Nevills battled for three rounds, but ended up losing a razor-thin decision, 4-3, due to insufficient riding time. Still, his coach was encouraged.

“He was crushed that he didn’t perform for our team, and I know when a guy that’s that talented takes it that seriously, things are going to get right real quick,” Clemsen said.

Nevills’ mentality has changed dramatically since his early collegiate years. He used to obsess with everything going on in the wrestling world. These days, he hardly recognizes his top opponents, approaching every match in a relaxed headspace.

Nevills’ mentality is on display every time he steps onto the mat. His face remains stoic whether he’s on his back or approaching a pin.

“One thing I take pride on is being very calm and collected, and I think that gets to my opponents sometimes,” Nevills said. “Just always being cool and never letting them see when you’re in a bad spot.”

Nevills and Clemsen have developed a strong relationship, although it has not always been so smooth. They both said they had to work through differences early in the offseason, with Clemsen describing the relationship as a “shotgun marriage.” They were forced to build chemistry and implement Nevills into the team shortly after he announced his transfer.

“I think the biggest thing was he came from an environment maybe where he didn’t flourish and was probably a little skeptical or cynical or guarded,” Clemsen said.

Nevills is appreciative of Clemsen and his staff, who have allowed him to find his love for the sport once again. “They have been amazing towards me and showed me a lot of love to help me rekindle that relationship with wrestling,” he said.

Nevills has this season to see what that relationship will bring him, and the gauntlet of Big Ten play will begin in mid-January. As the closer, he will be crucial to Maryland’s hopes of improving on last year’s 1-7 conference record.

Nevills doesn’t know if Maryland will be the final stop on his wrestling journey. Some successful college wrestlers pursue the Olympics or a mixed martial arts career, but he’s not sure that’s the path for him. He hopes to land an internship after the season, potentially one in line with the public leadership, safety and administration degree he’s pursuing.

For now, Nevills is content heading back to the gym, where he’s once again found comfort wrestling.