Buchholz senior Kason Nichols saved his best for last.
The 2023 graduate, who had been wrestling with Buchholz since middle school, won a state wrestling title this past March.
He was introduced to the sport through his dad and uncle, Martin Moore, around the age of 6.
But it wasn’t until his senior year that Nichols finally broke through to win state.
Nichols and junior C.J. Liddie each won individual state titles for Buchholz, marking the first time since 1996 that the Bobcats had two state champions in the same season.
The duo helped lead Buchholz to an eighth-place finish at the FHSAA Class 3A State Wrestling Tournament, the highest finish in the history of the program.
“It felt good, especially since I was a part of it too,” Nichols said.
Nichols, who won two district titles, a regional title, and finished with 150 wins in his prep career, won a state title in the 195-pound division.
He defeated Vero Beach senior John Roberts, who had only lost one match all season, in an 11-4 decision.
“The key was hard work and just listening to the coaches,” said Nichols, who qualified for the state tournament for the third straight year (sophomore, junior and senior seasons). “The first time I went it was pretty scary, pretty nerve-wracking. There were a lot of people there. It was close to one of the biggest tournaments that I had been to and it was just really nerve-wracking, a lot of people were watching and I cracked under pressure. I learned how to deal with pressure.”
His coach, Billy Pankey, said the key to Nichols winning a state title this past year was between his ears.
“His mindset from the jump was different,” Pankey said. “He was an animal in the postseason, and it was amazing to watch. Also, Coach Hunter Brinkman was paramount in his development.”
Pankey said Nichols meant so much to the Buchholz wrestling program.
“No words can do this justice,” Pankey said. “He was the epitome of a great teammate and leader.”
There were many favorite high school sports moments for Nichols, from hanging out with the team at the houses they would rent for tournaments, to going Gold All American with his cousin, Aiden, and celebrating with his teammate, C.J.
He will also remember the friendships he has made over the years, his coaches and team the night before the championship match, winning a state championship and “climbing up the stairs at the arena to see everyone there celebrating and getting to celebrate with my family and team.”
“There isn’t too much better than that,” Nichols said.
Pankey said the thing he will remember most about him is his dedication and determination his senior year.
“He was on a mission,” Pankey said.
Nichols, who plans to continue his education beyond high school and eventually become a business owner, said winning a state title for the black and gold was on his list of accomplishments before he graduated.
“It felt surreal at first,” he said. “Like winning any other tournament, but not; it was better, way better. This was the goal for this year, and I was happy to be able to get it done. It doesn’t always happen for everyone who you think will win and I was lucky enough to get it done.”