North’s Hillard primed for Nashua Hall of Fame wrestling tourney

NASHUA – For Nashua North’s Garrett Hillard, high school wrestling this winter has been a sheer test of his strength, heart, desire, will to win, grit, determination … and, of course, his social skills.

“You know, I go to these meets and see all these guys, again, and they look familiar,” said Hillard, back on the mat for the Titans after two winters away. “They see me, and they wonder where I’ve been. It’s cool to see all these guys again.”

The rasslin’ reunions are sure to extend into this Saturday for the North senior heavyweight as he and the Titans are one of 18 teams competing in the Nashua Hall of Fame Classic Tournament being hosted at Nashua South.

“Lots more familiar faces for sure,” said Hillard, who has waged the battle in the early going to get himself into wrestling shape and posted a solid 8-4 mark along the way. “I’m excited. It’s a good tournament, a lot of good guys but it’s in the city and it’s going to be a great event.

Hillard, a standout lineman for the Titans this fall in football, was first and foremost a year-round wrestler growing up.

“I wrestled at all the clubs year-round, learned all the moves and was really into it from third grade into eighth grade,” said Hillard. “But freshman year was a tough one for him, especially on the mat where he weighed in at 223 pounds and faced a lot of bigger heavyweights (285-pound limit).

“I placed at JV states and was

pretty good, but it was hard.”

And from there, Hillard focused on football, leaving the mat, for what he thought was for good.

On the football field, Hillard played huge in the trenches for coach Dante Laurendi’s club, starting for three seasons on varsity. He wants to play in college as well.

But when football assistant Chad Zibolis took over the wrestling program this winter, the coach went on a recruiting mission in the locker room as he tried to rebuild a roster that had sunk as low as single digits in number.

Hillard was an immediate target, given the background.

“It’s pretty cool to be a part of something like this with (Zibolis) trying to build it back,” said Hillard. “We’ve got up to 30 kids on the team now. They’re athletes, a lot of them, but they’re very new to wrestling. It’s a process. They have to learn.”

And so did Hillard.

“I forgot a lot of the moves,” he said.

Hillard hard another obstacle, even more difficult than shaking off the mat ruster. He was up to about 300 pounds in football, 15 pounds over the legal heavyweight limit.

So it was time to go to work. Over the weeks, he’s gotten down to the proper weight, dipping as low as 281 at one weigh-in. Currently, he says he walks around at about 288.

“I feel faster, and I’m in better shape,” he said. “Taking the weight off has helped. And it’s only going to make be better for football.”

Football is in the future, though. Hillard is thinking short-term right now.

And that means the Hall of Fame tourney Saturday. Who knows? Perhaps we could see the match everyone in Nashua wants to see, Hillard vs. South’s Kyle O’Connor, who earned an impressive sixth-place at the prestigious Lowell Holiday Tournament recently.

Regardless, Hillard is fired up.

“It’s going to be a great day,” he said.