NIC’s Bommarito takes aim at national wrestling title

North Idaho College wrestler Jeremy Bommarito was a two-time state champ during his prep career in Michigan. (Kathy Plonka)
North Idaho College wrestler Jeremy Bommarito was a two-time state champ during his prep career in Michigan. (Kathy Plonka)

Jeremy Bommarito has been waiting two years to get another shot at a national wrestling medal. And the North Idaho College 157-pounder admits that the wait has been long.

He had come within one victory of placing at his first National Junior College Athletic Association Division I tournament in 2009.

Last year, Bommarito redshirted and was a spectator when his teammates finished fourth in the tournament in Iowa Falls.

“It was the first time in a long time I sat on the bench and had to watch,” Bommarito said. “It wasn’t easy. At times I wish I could have jumped on the mat. Watching those guys it was, ‘Man, I’d really like to be out there.’ ”

He’ll have his chance to release that pent-up energy when NIC hosts the National Junior College Athletic Association championships Friday and Saturday at the Spokane Convention Center.

According to Cardinals coach Pat Whitcomb, it is the first time in 50 years that the national tourney has been held west of the Mississippi River. Competition begins at 9:30 a.m. Friday with championship finals scheduled for 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Bommarito, too, came west of the Mississippi to continue his wrestling career. A native of Hartland, Mich., located about halfway between Detroit and Lansing. He was a two-time state champion, wrestling at 140 and 145 pounds, but had drawn little interest from colleges, other than a late pitch by NIC.

Whitcomb said he knew Bommarito’s coach and sought the young grappler for his program.

“He was one of those hard workers you get that you can make a living with,” Whitcomb said.

As for Bommarito, he heard from people that Coeur d’Alene was a really beautiful city with a climate similar to Michigan’s and that North Idaho College had a strong wrestling legacy. Without taking a visit, he signed with the Cardinals sight unseen and the two became a perfect fit.

“Surprisingly, there was no adjustment,” he said of his move some 2,000 miles away from home. “I came out here blind, sort of winged it, and to this day I don’t regret it. Everyone has been kind to me and nice to me. It’s been a great place and great experience.”

Bommarito said his wrestling background was infused by his father, Jerry, a martial arts enthusiast and long-time youth club wrestling coach. He was a four-year varsity competitor and three-time state qualifier in the state’s highest classification, going from non-placer to state titlist his final two years. He estimates he won over 120 matches and lost just 5 during that period.

“I think it was just mental,” he said of his rapid improvement. “I told myself I had to focus on wrestling and pushed myself an extra bit.”

Still, he didn’t know if he would continue to wrestle beyond high school until Whitcomb came calling.

As a freshman in 2009, Bommarito competed at 149 pounds, winning twice on his way into the quarterfinal bracket before losing to the eventual third- and fourth-place finishers.

Last year, up in weight, he sat out the season – although competing unattached at tournaments – in order to adjust to the increased size and to concentrate on studies.

“I had to get bigger, lifted all summer and trained with the heavier weights just to get used to it,” he said. “The strength factor was huge.”

He also discovered his inner coach in the weight room, giving pointers to teammates to help them get better.

“If the opportunity to coach a (youth) team arose, I would definitely jump on it,” the criminal justice major said. “It’s a dream of mine to coach a team, have a successful program and see youth athletes prosper.”

That aptitude and his grit are what impress Whitcomb.

“He is wrestling (this year) as well as he has wrestled his whole career,” Whitcomb said. “It’s just the experience he brings. He’s a third-year guy who’s seen two national tournaments and is a grinder. That’s a definite bonus.”

North Idaho has a full 10-wrestler complement at this weekend’s national tournament, including three Region 18 champions: Bommarito, Jamelle Jones (a 2008 national winner at St. Louis-Meramec) and Kyle McCrite, from Lakeland (third at nationals a year ago).

The Cardinals are ranked No. 2 nationally behind Clackamas Community College of Oregon, which ended NIC’s regional title string that had dated back to 1996.

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