Ceron Francisco’s days in the state of Nebraska are about numbered. To quickly recap, Francisco arrived in Seward prior to the school year in 2013, then a shell of what he became. He stormed onto the scene at the 2015 national championships, making a surprise run to the All-America stand. Two years later, Francisco made even bigger waves by advancing all the way to the heavyweight national title bout, positioning himself as a Bulldog icon.
Friday (Dec. 8) will mark his final day student teaching in special education at Lincoln Northeast High School. Soon he will also be finished serving as a student assistant on head coach Andrew Nicola’s Concordia staff.
On senior day back in February, Francisco reflected upon four years gone by quickly. “I was pretty emotional just thinking about all the things we’ve been through as a team. I was just happy to be part of the program. This has been a consistent family for me the past four years. I was just overcome with emotion thinking about the great things we’ve done as a team and as a family.”
Ceron has already met members of his new family. On June 2, he announced that he had accepted an offer to become a resident athlete at the University of Virginia. His new journey will begin late in December when he will relocate to Charlottesville, Va., about a four-and-a-half hour drive from his hometown of Fayetteville, N.C. Ceron’s new family is the Virginia Wrestling Club.
Virginia assistant coaches and brothers Travis and Trent Paulson previously coached at Iowa State University, where they became aware of Ceron through a connection with previous Bulldog wrestling coach Dana Vote. Ceron made such an impression upon the Paulsons that they vowed to give him the chance to train at Iowa State. Coaching transitions shifted the Paulsons to Virginia. So that’s where Ceron will go.
In two separate tweets, Travis Paulson explained why Ceron’s presence at Virginia is a big deal. “Love our new addition to the Cavalier wrestling family,” Travis Paulson wrote. “He’s a great role model and embodies what it means to be a champion on and off the mat … this is a guy Virginia wrestling alumni and fans should get excited about! He has potential through the roof, is a man of character and has great work ethic.”
Ceron isn’t headed to Virginia simply to mess around. He’ll work with the Cavalier staff led by head coach Steve Garland, grapple with and advise Virginia wrestlers, help teach their scholastic program (K-12) and train himself vigorously just as he had all through four years of collegiate competition that saw him morph his body in a way that turned heads. Ceron’s wrestling career is not over, it’s simply relocating for an opportunity that comes with pay and full-time responsibilities.
“I’m packing up everything and living there (in Charlottesville),” Ceron said. “I’ll be there as long as I need to be. I’m starting a new chapter. They flew me out there in the summer time and I went and spoke at a banquet. It was a lot of fun.”
The Cavalier Wrestling Club doubles as a USA Wrestling Regional Olympic Training Center. You read that right. Ceron has dreams of testing his abilities on an international level. If things break right, Ceron could find himself at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. He also hopes to take a shot at the 2024 Olympics.
His first big test is coming up in February in Havana, Cuba. Said Ceron, “They’re throwing me right to the wolves.” This all seems like a daunting challenge for someone who wrestled at the NAIA level, but overlook Ceron at your own peril. He got a late start at wrestling in high school and might only be scratching the surface in terms of his full potential.
“It’s funny because I think about my sophomore year when I was a wild card and I felt like the underdog,” Ceron said. “I ended up making it to the semifinals and surprised a lot of people. I think that’s going to be one of my weapons coming up on the circuit. I can kind of sneak up on some guys.”
One of three resident athletes at the Virginia Wrestling Club (others went to Oklahoma State and one from Pittsburgh), Ceron will have to adjust to freestyle wrestling, one of two styles featured in the Olympics. While doing so, he’ll have to advance through rigorous trial rounds if he hopes to reach the Olympics or gain entry onto the world team. Says Ceron, “There are some things I still need to learn but I have some of the best coaches to work with so I’m excited to get started.”
Whenever the wrestling career does end for Ceron, one of two Bulldogs ever to reach 100 wins, he has a second career waiting as a coach and teacher. In his first assignment as a student teacher at Seward Middle School, Ceron learned that he has “more patience than I thought.”
Ceron turned down a graduate assistantship opportunity once Travis Paulson first extended the offer to make his way to Virginia. No one knows for sure how far this opportunity will take him, but there’s undoubtedly a lot more to come in regards to the saga of Ceron Francisco, a Concordia Bulldogs icon.
Says Ceron, “I think coaching and teaching are very parallel. I have to adjust and deal with different personalities. I have to be prepared for whatever is coming. I’ve actually been counseling some of the athletes here at Concordia. Once I’m done with wrestling I can put my degree to use. Right now I’m focusing on this.”