Nick Amuchastegui is ranked No. 1 at 174 pounds (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)It all reads like some fictional portrait of the ideal scholar-athlete from a bygone era, or an NCAA PR person's fantasy. But, for Stanford wrestler Nick Amuchastegui, it's the extreme Cliff Notes version of his college career.
Amuchastegui, 22, is wrapping up his fifth year at Stanford, having already earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, and wrapping up work on his master's. He is also winding up an impressive mat career as a Cardinal, with a perfect 18-0 record this season, a three-time Pac-10 finalist (and 2010 conference champ), and two-time NCAA All-American. All very impressive for a guy from rural Oregon who wasn't heavily recruited.
The kid from Talent
Amuchastegui grew up on a farm in southern Oregon. When asked how he was introduced to wrestling, the Talent, Oregon native responded, "Dad went out for wrestling for one week in high school -- his family had just moved, and he had to help out at home. His high school P.E. teacher, Harry Mondale, was still teaching when I was in third grade. He went to my father and said, 'I think that little guy should go out for wrestling.'"
"I was up for it," Amuchastegui continued. "I felt really welcomed into the sport."
Amuchastegui honed his craft at various wrestling clubs in southern Oregon, then competed at Phoenix High School.
"Harry (Mondale) was my high school coach. He must have been about 75 years old. A really tough guy," Amuchastegui said, with a smile in his voice. "If he thought you were a wimp, he called you out. But I became tougher because of him."
As a wrestler at Phoenix High, Amuchastegui was a four-time placer at the Oregon state tournament, placing third as a freshman and sophomore, second his senior year, and winning the state title as a junior. Yet the Stanford senior is rather modest about his pre-college mat career.
"I never did anything that special in high school," Amuchastegui said with sincere modesty. "I didn't do anything nationally ... I wrestled three months a year. I think that was ultimately a benefit for me, because I never got burned out, and was able to have time for my family and other things. (Amuchastegui also played baseball in high school.)
From the family farm, to The Farm
How did a farm boy from Oregon end up at Stanford University, known as "The Farm" because it is located on what had been the farm of school founders Leland and Jane Stanford?
"Stanford had been on my radar since seventh grade, but I wasn't sure it was within my reach," Amuchastegui disclosed.
"In my freshman year of high school, we had a college prep research class. We were asked to research colleges -- to choose a couple that were 'within reach' and a couple that were our 'dream schools.' One of the schools I researched was Stanford."
"The teacher pointed out, 'No one from here gets into Stanford.'"
Despite his state title, Amuchastegui was not heavily recruited, "even by Stanford," as the Cardinal wrestler put it. "However, Zach Giesen (2011 Pac-10 champ at 197) put in a good word for me."
"Since I got in, three from my high school -- including my younger brother Luke -- now go to Stanford."
Adjusting to life at The Farm
Nick Amuchastegui admitted that getting accustomed to Stanford was a real challenge in his first few months at the Palo Alto-based school.
"It's an urban setting, which I was not used to," said InterMat's top-ranked 174-pounder. "I missed the activities I had enjoyed growing up on a farm -- hunting, fishing, being outdoors."
Jason Borrelli is in his fourth season as Stanford's head coach (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)In a recent profile of Amuchastegui posted at the Stanford wrestling website, Cardinal head wrestling coach Jason Borrelli told writer Kevin Danna, "He's not shy about it. He'll tell you -- he'd love to be back in southern Oregon, be with his family, live on the farm and be around them every day. You know right away that's something that's extremely important to him."
In that same article, Amuchastegui said, "My first quarter here was one of the most difficult times of my life."
It wasn't just the farm and family that the freshman missed. "I was also feeling lonely," Amuchastegui told InterMat. "I missed being away from my family, and hadn't yet formed close friendships at school."
That all changed with time. "What has made me happy here is making friends, joining in the Christian community here. Finding people who really care about me. I feel so much more comfortable now, being with people who love me."
Favorable first impressions
Even with this period of adjustment to life at Stanford, Nick Amuchastegui made a favorable impression in the Cardinal wrestling room right from the start.
Nick Amuchastegui is a two-time NCAA All-American (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)"I knew in the first couple months he'd be great as a wrestler," said Coach Borrelli. "I knew he'd be special. Seeing how he responded as a freshman, working out with guys like Luke Feist, Matt Gentry, Josh Zupanic. When he'd get knocked down, he was figuring out ways right away not to get knocked down again. Typically, a redshirt will think, 'I have time to figure this out.' Instead, he decided to figure out things right away. He had a sense of urgency, even as a redshirt freshman, which is pretty rare."
Borrelli's initial impressions were proved true. Amuchastegui has built an impressive 108-17 overall record in his career at Stanford, and is a perfect 18-0 in his last season as a Cardinal. He's a three-time Pac-10 finalist, winning the 165-pound crown at the conference championships in 2010.
When asked to name the high points of his Stanford wrestling career, Amuchastegui quickly responded, "The NCAAs, every year. It's what my season builds up to. It's truly exciting for me. It's where I put forth my best effort."
"As a sophomore and junior, I performed better than was expected, and good things happened."
Amuchastegui is a three-time NCAA qualifier. As a sophomore, he earned All-American honors at his second trip to the nationals by placing fourth at the 2010 NCAAs in Omaha.
Nick Amuchastegui celebrates after beating Mack Lewnes (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)Last year, Amuchastegui moved up a weight class, compiling a 27-3 record as a junior prior to the NCAAs. A runner-up at the 2011 Pac 10s, Amuchastegui was seeded No. 7 in the 174-pound bracket at the 2011 NCAAs. However, the Cardinal matman exceeded expectations by getting an injury default win over second-seeded Ed Ruth of Penn State in the quarterfinals ... then, in the semifinals, scoring a 5-2 win over Cornell's Mack Lewnes, seeded third.
Amuchastegui left Philadelphia the runner-up, losing to Iowa State's Jon Reader, 10-3, in the finals ... but winning a measure of respect -- and new fans -- in the process.
"What's enabled me to excel and exceed expectations is to disregard my ranking, and not to worry about my opponents," said Amuchastegui. "After all, he's got two arms and two legs, just like me."
"I try to apply the same thinking, no matter the opponent or the situation. My attitude is the same wherever I am in the rankings."
Leading the way
Another impressive attribute cited by Coach Borrelli is Nick Amuchastegui's leadership skills.
"He has a good understanding of what successful people do. He's not driven to follow in other people's footsteps. He is the epitome of a guy who is a leader, blazing his own trail."
"He's an effective leader for Stanford wrestling," Borrelli continued. "He can be vocal when necessary. He's an incredible extension of our coaching staff. When the guys are tired, he's encouraging his teammates on. He conducts wrestler team meetings; his teammates come to him with their concerns. When recruits come to visit, he takes time to talk to them and their parents, to make them feel welcome, answer their questions."
"He wants to learn about other people. He could be sitting next to you on an airplane, and during the entire flight, the conversation would be about you, not his accomplishments."
"Within the first ten seconds of talking to him, you see how articulate he is," said Borrelli. "He projects an inner confidence that comes from being very secure with himself. Yet he never presents himself as being superior to anyone. Considering all he's accomplished, he's a very humble guy."
Nick Amuchastegui's academic accomplishments may well outshine his success on the mat. He is a two-time winner of the NCAA Elite 88 Award, presented to the wrestler competing at the national championships with the highest grade point average. In addition, he is a first-team Academic All-American, and Capital One/CoSIDA Men's At-Large Academic All-American of the Year.
Nick Amuchastegui finished the regular season 18-0 (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)Impressive as those academic honors are, Amuchastegui has been singularly focused on making the most of his time at Stanford. He completed his undergraduate degree in the school's highly-ranked mechanical engineering program in just three years ... and is now finishing up his graduate work for a master's degree, concentrating on the subjects of thermodynamics and mechatronics. A summer internship at Sandia National Laboratory has led to a career position waiting for him at their Livermore, California facility upon graduation.
How does Amuchastegui balance the demands of being a top-ranked wrestler and a student in a rigorous academic program?
He draws on a rugged work ethic instilled in him by his father and his demanding high school coach, Harry Mondale ... and appears to have earned a minor in time management.
In an interview with Mike Finn for WIN (Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine) earlier this season, Amuchastegui described a typical weekday that started at 6:30 a.m. with early-morning practice lasting an hour-and-a-half, then breakfast, then 4-5 hours of homework, then classes, then a workout that spans much of the afternoon, then dinner, then more homework, then bed. All that, and he manages to also incorporate time for outdoor activities such as hiking or biking, and social time with friends.
When asked by InterMat how he achieved balance between academics and athletics, Amuchastegui said, "I don't try to put one over the other; both matter. I eliminate what doesn't bring me joy or fulfillment, such as TV or Facebook."
Nick Amuchastegui rides Oregon State's Cody Weishoff (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)Or, as he told WIN, "What I tell people is that it's amazing what you can accomplish in 16 hours once you cut out all the crap in your life."
A key component to Nick Amuchastegui's balanced life is his religious faith. He makes time to participate in Christian activities, and incorporate his faith in his daily living -- even relating it to his wrestling.
"Jesus was a guy who loved people who weren't showy, didn't seek fame," said Amuchastegui. "As a wrestler, you can't want fame. You don't attract crowds. Being a wrestler requires a strong heart, and taking care of yourself physically and spiritually. It requires me to live up to my potential every day."
In talking to Amuchastegui, words like "humble," "modest," "impressive," "thoughtful" and "centered" immediately come to mind. Coach Jason Borrelli summed it up well by saying, "You have to be impressed with what he has accomplished in wrestling, and in the classroom. He works very hard at both to achieve all that he has. He is a great legacy for this program."