PALM HARBOR – A hot weight room running drills and preparing for the match this weekend. Sweat dripping down your face. Perfecting moves on the mat.
Putting on your gear ready to face your opponent. Waiting for the match to start. Ready to wrestle.
That’s the realm of Nicholas Radner, who has been the head wrestling coach of Palm Harbor University High School since 2017-2018. He was the assistant coach 2015-2016.
The school’s wrestling team earned several titles in the past year, including district champions and first-ever regional champions. The team had one state finalist and won the Pinellas County title.
Radner also won coach of the year for last season.
“It was a huge milestone in my coaching career, but I couldn’t have done it without the support of my team, my assistant coach and my families. It’s a building process and it took me many years to achieve that,” Radner said.
He encourages his students to find a wrestler that they look up to. Someone that they like, and respect then copy something from him.
Radner introduces his team to the grind. His kids have practice at 5:15 to 6:15 a.m. and then they have classes. Then they have a second practice that runs from 2 to 3:30 p.m., and then his team will individually work out at the gym at night from 6 to 8 p.m. It’s a lifestyle.
To join the wrestling team a student needs a physical, pair of running shoes, shorts and a shirt. If someone decides to wrestle off campus, it can get more expensive.
The wrestling practice is 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Pushing the athletes to where they think they can’t go on anymore. Then pushing that mental toughness.
“Every day as a coach you have to push to the mental edge of what they think they can do. Once they’re beyond that point you really build tough people,” Radner said.
Besides the physical aspect of the sport, he teaches kids to push their own boundaries.
In those two hours of practice, Radner time manages from water breaks, drilling, techniques, mental training and emotional training.
Radner also makes sure his team is in good shape, tracking what their eating, if they get sick, and helping manage their stress level. He helps them find a healthy balance.
Radner also teaches English three honors, reading for college success and AP seminar capstone at Palm Harbor University.
He also coached wrestling for seven years at Anclote High School in Pasco County.
Radner has wrestled his entire life, developing his skills in elementary and middle school. He was on the wrestling team at East Lake High School.
His inspiration on becoming a wrestler was watching “Saved by the Bell,” a sitcom about a group of high school friends and their principal, and seeing A.C. Slater, a leading character on the series. Radner wanted to be cool like A.C. Slater.
Wrestling was also included in his school’s gym curriculum in New York. He always thought it was a tough sport and learned the value in wrestling.
Another one of his inspirations is David Taylor, American wrestler on team USA. Taylor’s coaching style is something Radner uses for himself when coaching.
His favorite part about being a coach is watching what his kids do after they graduate. Some of his students message him years later about what he said or something they learned from wrestling.
Last year, 11 seniors graduated. This year, Radner has all underclassmen and one senior.
Radner likes that every year his team is different. There is a different team mentality and new players. Every few years they restructure and reformat.
“Wrestling is a way of life and I always keep learning from the sport,” he said.