STILLWATER – When Andrew Nieman graduated from Stillwater High, it appeared he was ending his wrestling career.

Passing on an offer from the Stanford wrestling program, Nieman elected to stay home and attend Oklahoma State with a focus on academics.

But wrestling legend John Smith, who watched Nieman grow up in the sport, has some pull when it comes to athletes who grew up in wrestling.

“I think he always knew that I was going to come after him if he was staying,” the Cowboy wrestling coach Smith said. “So here we are, and I just really appreciate the commitment that these young men like Andrew make, and it makes a difference in the quality of your program. … I said, ‘If you’re going to be here in Stillwater, Oklahoma, you’re gonna wrestle.’”

Nieman, who is a former Oklahoma Class 6A high school champion in 2014 as a sophomore, has largely been a backup for the Cowboys, with his 8-11 record coming from open tournaments.

But thanks to his performance at the Orange and Black rankings matches this past Sunday, he will get his first career dual start at 133 pounds when Oklahoma State opens up the season at noon Sunday against the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga inside Gallagher-Iba Arena. The Cowboys will also face Oregon State at 3 p.m., which be available on ESPN+.

“I’m just really excited that he’s getting this opportunity to start,” Smith said. “He needs to recognize that it wasn’t given to him, he earned it. He spent a lot of time wrestling behind guys, and this is his opportunity. So, I look forward to seeing him take advantage of it.”

Obviously one of those wrestlers Nieman had been stuck behind is former national runner-up at 133 pounds, Daton Fix, who is serving a one-year suspension from competition due to the presence of a banned substance in his body. That suspension is due to end in mid-February, leaving plenty of time of Nieman to take advantage of the opportunity on the mat.

Smith has had to take a unique approach with the homegrown Nieman due to his academics.

The redshirt senior is listed as a chemical engineering major on the OSU Athletics website.

“There’s some challenges with his academics,” Smith said. “He’s in a very serious, very challenging degree, and I give him all the room in the world to make sure that he follows through with his commitment to this degree.

“So there’s times that he needs an extra day, needs an extra practice off, there’s just those times that he needs it. And you know, he deserves it.”

Fellow redshirt senior Dakota Geer – who admitted to himself being excited about getting back onto the mat after the abrupt end to last season a week before the national tournament due to the pandemic – said the established veterans like himself always get juiced when an athlete like Nieman, who has spent all of his collage career with no guarantee of wrestling in a a dual, finally earn that chance to compete for the Cowboys.

“I get excited for him, too,” Geer said. “… Watching them get to compete with some of your close friends, I mean, it’s just fun times.”