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When Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College (NEO) freshman Blake Gonzalez stepped foot on the mat in the championship round of the NJCAA Wrestling National Championship on March 7, he was more nervous than he had ever been. “My opponent was a really skilled defensive wrestler. I wrestle offensively and try to keep the pace high. It was tough to establish an attack.”

A Criminal Justice major from Broken Arrow, Okla., Gonzalez has been wrestling since he was young, even earning a state runner-up title. Wrestling in the 141-pound class, he battled through a crowded field to challenge Auston Hall, of Rochester Community and Technical College in Minnesota. After two hard-fought periods, Gonzalez had a commanding lead at 9-1 when Hall went down with an injured hamstring. After 4:54, Gonzalez won by default and was the new 141-pound National Champ. “Blake is a great young man,” said NEO Head Coach Joe Renfro. “He works hard, has talent, and he’s got grit, that’s for sure.”

While Gonzalez is certainly the on-mat talent, he attributes much of his success to the family support system watching in the stands. “One of the first things I did was run up to my dad and say, ‘we did this.’ He sort of serves as my scout and I wouldn’t be here without him. He’s my biggest supporter. With my dad, my mom, and my sister behind me, I couldn’t ask for a better family support system.” In addition to his individual title, Gonzalez played a major role in securing a National Runner-Up finish for the NEO team.

Coach Renfro noted that while the goal is always to win a national title, there were several bright spots to this season. “This is a very good group of young men and I am very proud of them. In addition to success throughout the season, our starting line-up has a 3.1 GPA overall and two of them have a 4.0. It was a good year, but now it’s back to the drawing board and the practice mat to aim for a national title in 2021.”

For Gonzalez, he plans to continue competition and studies at NEO, while looking toward the future. “Right now, I just can’t stop smiling. I am excited for the doors that this will open after my time at NEO. This team and this program are great and I am excited to get back on the mat!”

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