Many great wrestlers have come through Fresno State’s wrestling program. And heavyweight AJ Nevills may be on his way to adding his name to that list of greats.
Looking at his lineage, it is no wonder why he chose wrestling.
AJ has two older brothers who have wrestled collegiately for two national heavyweight schools. Zach wrestled at Stanford from 2012 to 2016 and Nick is a senior at top-ranked Penn State University.
Wrestling for Clovis High School, AJ won the California Interscholastic Federation championship in 2016 at 220 pounds.
His younger brother Seth also wrestles for Clovis High and has won three consecutive state championships and may be the third California prep to win four state titles.
Not only is wrestling in his blood. Elite wrestling is in his blood.
AJ credits his older brothers with helping him develop as a wrestler through his younger years.
“From the beginning you always have that brotherly competition. Seeing my brothers do well made we want to work harder and accomplish the things that they have done,” AJ said.
He has already accomplished one thing that his brother Nick did – gray-shirting at Penn State for a year before moving back home. He grew up as a young wrestler in the Central Valley.
“I learned a lot [at Penn State]. I saw the best of the best. They’re No.1 right now,” AJ said. “I saw what it takes to be the best. I tried to absorb as much as I could over there and take some of the knowledge back here.”
Being able to come back to the Valley wasn’t the only reason he came to Fresno State. A familiar face proved to be an obstacle.
“I had to wrestle my brother for that last spot,” AJ said.
Now at Fresno State, he has a fresh beginning.
“I wanted to be a part of something from the very beginning, and it feels pretty good to be a part of the first team [at Fresno State],” AJ said.
AJ believes he has a shot at being part of rebuilding a great wrestling tradition that Fresno State had established before its 11-year hiatus.
“It’s just good for the sport of wrestling, in general,” AJ said. “You see programs just dropping left and right. Hopefully, we can be a beacon for the rest of the colleges and help grow the sport of wrestling. It’s special here in the Valley.”
AJ and the Bulldogs returned for Fresno State’s first season in November. They are competing in one of the best conferences in the country, the Big-12.
The freshman standout said that he embraces the tough competition. It is the best way to improve as a wrestler, he said.
“If you are not going to go out and push yourself to be the best, you are not going to get the results that you want. I would rather go out and wrestle the best and take some losses instead of wrestle a weak schedule and get a bunch of wins,” AJ said. “It doesn’t mean as much.”
AJ has a 23-3 record, something that he is proud of.
“Coming from not having any college matches at all to here, I am proud of myself. I put in a lot of work, and I think that I have earned it,” AJ said. “I would like to be a Big-12 champ and, hopefully, make a big splash at the NCAA tournament and see how that goes.”