Mentoring the Miners |

Mentoring the Miners

Matt Gibson’s got a pretty good idea of what it takes to reach the California State Wrestling Championships. He’s been there, done that.


But as he prepares to resume his own wrestling career as a prized recruit for the Iowa State Cyclones, the two-time state finalist has been lending his mind and muscle to the Miners of Nevada Union High School.

After running into NU head coach Nick Saldivar at the state finals in Bakersfield last year, Gibson jumped at the chance to help his friend who was starting his second season at the helm of the Miner program.

“I came up here around Christmas and just loved their work ethic,” Gibson said of the Miners. “I told Nick that I’d love to help. I’m trying to work with all the guys, but mostly with the bigger guys.”

Gibson is one big guy, himself. At 6 feet, 6 inches, he towers above Nevada Union heavyweight Michael Champagne as the two tangle during a recent practice at The Mine.

Gibson’s strength is apparent, but perhaps just as impressive is the speed he shows for a heavyweight wrestler. That combination helped the Jesse Bethel High School (Vallejo) grappler place fourth in the 2007 California state finals at 189 pounds and third place at 215 pounds a year later.

Another heavyweight who once worked out at The Mine, used speed as much as strength to win the 2004 California heavyweight state championship. Former Nevada Union star Wade Sauer, who later placed sixth in the NCAA prior to suffering a career-ending neck injury, show similar skills to Gibson.

And ever since he joined the coaching staff, Gibson’s athletic gifts have been giving Champagne and his fellow Miners quite a challenge at practice each day.

“He’s pretty much just the overall coach,” said Champagne. “I’ve improved quite a bit since last year. I only won four or five times (as a sophomore) last year. This year, I’ve won 14 (prior to the team section tournament and the Sierra Foothill League championships.). All of that is thanks to Matt. He’s a great coach and also a great guy.”

Saldivar saw as much when he asked Gibson if he could help out with the Miners, while he was attending Sierra College before moving on to join the Cyclones next fall. Gibson said he’ll be considered a redshirt sophomore his first season in Ames, Iowa.

“My hat’s off to all of our coaching staff,” Saldivar said. “But Matt Gibson has done a really good job with our big guys. He’s only a young man, but he stepped up, made a commitment to us and followed through. He’s done extremely well with those boys.”

Although he deflects the credit for Champagne’s turnaround season, Gibson helped NU’s heavyweight finish second in last week’s SFL Championships, which earned him a spot in this week’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Championships.

Champagne, who also played on the offensive line for Nevada Union’s section championship football team, hopes to stretch his junior season even further this weekend.

But, Gibson added, Champagne could one day reach even greater heights.

“Right now, we’re just staying focused on the basics. I want him to be really great at the basics,” Gibson said. “The main thing he needs now is confidence. If he’s wrestling a kid he knows he can beat, he does great. He just needs to execute with confidence.

“Overall, if he works at it, he can place at state. I’d love to see him down there next year. He definitely has the potential to be a state placer.”

Contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton via e-mail at or by phone at 477-4240.

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