When Nate Olson took his first teaching job 11 years ago, he didn’t think making T-shirts would be part of the deal.
That’s just part of the territory when you take over the reins of perhaps the top Class A wrestling program in the state.
Olson, a 2003, Tekamah-Herman grad, was named head wrestling coach at Millard South in April, following the retirement of Hall-of-Famer Doug Denson. The Patriots have won the last three state titles and were runner-up the year before that. Olson was an assistant coach for those teams, taking a paying coaching gig in the 2008-09 school year.
Teaching and coaching is what Olson always wanted to do, although he didn’t necessarily see himself at one of the biggest schools in the state. Following his graduation in 2007 from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Olson got his first real job at Millard South and now can’t imagine working anyplace else.
“I have a great teaching job and the administration is very supportive of the program,” he said Thursday from inside his cluttered office.
Olson had a lot of things going on to be ready for Nov. 13, the opening day of formal practice.
He’s seen the first day of practice a lot, but never like this.
Olson graduated from Tekamah-Herman in 2003 after fashioning his career with 125 wins, still eighth on the all-time charts. A two-time East Husker champion, he was 36-2 as a senior, finishing second at 119 lbs. at the Class C state tourney.
That senior campaign was where he had his first brush with Millard South. He wrestled, and beat, Denson’s son in the youngster’s first varsity match at the Blair Invitational. The younger Denson went on to become a three-time state champ.
Years later, while student teaching at Millard South, he ran into the elder Denson in the hallway outside the office and soon was a volunteer assistant for the Patriots.
Olson said that kind of luck, being in the right place at the right time, is part of how he ended up with the top job.
“I didn’t really want to student teach here,” he said. “I wanted something smaller, like Bennington or Arlington.
“I got along well with Coach Denson and he always looked up to Coach Mytty.”
The legendary Tekamah-Herman coach also had an influence on Olson, one he brings to the Millard South program now.
“Every person you meet you can take something from,” Olson said. “Coming up through the Tekamah-Herman club, we were always taught to be tough on top. The philosophy was to always go for the pin, no matter how much time is left.
“I’ve brought that with me.”
That and the Tiger High T-shirts he wears.
Like Tekamah-Herman, wrestling is a big deal at his current school. He said he is often asked when wrestling starts.
“The easy answer is it never stops,” Olson said. “There are camps in the summer and conditioning in the spring and fall.”
He also tracks the grades of his athletes and runs the weight management program. On top of that, he makes the team’s T-shirts, one of the perks that makes Patriot wrestling attractive to younger kids in the district.
Olson said that kind of extra work is worth it. It’s also the biggest difference, he thinks, between the biggest schools and smaller ones.
“At smaller schools there is a lot more parental involvement,” he said. “There are fewer kids in smaller buildings and if you need to get a hold of a parent, it’s much easier.”
At the Class A level, there is more of everything. While the volunteer support from the club level is still in place, there also are more kids which means more lockers, more equipment and more to track.
Then there’s getting those athletes into matches. Olson said he has about 65 kids out for wrestling this year. Including junior varsity action, the Patriots have entries in four events the first three days of the season.
Olson said he’ll have a young team this year after graduating nine seniors from the 2017 state champs.
One of the biggest transitions for young people to make is getting used to the physical nature of the sport.
Like military training, athletes are pushed to their limits and beyond in practice.
“You have to learn to get past the pain,” he said. “If practice is the hardest thing you do, the matches will be easy.”
But is this head coaching stuff going to be easy?
“Ask me in a year,” he said with a smile.