By Jake Knabel, Sports Information Director
Wrestling and repairing cars go together like peanut butter and jelly – at least they do for Concordia freshman Austin Fehlhafer.
In between wrestling practice and getting ready to labor at the Midwest Automotive and Napa Auto Parts store owned by his parents, Brian and Cindy, the Seward native discussed his passion for two of the things he loves most.
“It was actually a hard decision whether to come wrestle (at Concordia) or go work on cars because I basically grew up in the shop with my dad,” Fehlhafer said. “It’s just always been in my blood – the same as wrestling.”
Midway through his rookie season, Fehlhafer has found the perfect balance. He’s ahead of schedule on the mat. He leads second-year head coach Dana Vote’s Bulldogs in wins (16) and pins (12) and he still squeezes in time at the shop.
The astounding early success has surprised Vote and even Fehlhafer himself. The business administration major raised plenty of eyebrows when he won the 174-pound title at the University of Nebraska-Kearney Open and was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler. Fehlhafer bulldozed the competition with four of his five wins on the day coming via fall.
“I expected Austin to have a good year but I don’t know if I expected him to start off as hot as he did,” Vote said. “He’s a tough kid. He comes from a great family. He keeps working towards his goals. He knows what he wants and he’s working towards it.”
What Fehlhafer wants is to leave his opponents wondering what hit them. He has already ended nine matches before they even made it past the first period. His fastest fall came in just 40 seconds. In other words, he likes to strike quickly.
“I find success in going out there and dominating and trying to knock them out right away,” Fehlhafer said. “I don’t want to give them a chance at all. That’s what I try to go for – to knock them off their feet so they don’t know what to expect. I try to pin as many people as I can.”
Of course, those who followed Fehlhafer’s career at Seward High School may not be so surprised by the freshman’s adaptation to the collegiate scene. Fehlhafer set school records as a Bluejay with 104 wins and 36 pins during his career. He also placed at the state championships three times and twice earned runner up medals.
However, he understood that college wrestling presented a new challenge and plenty of unknowns.
“I wasn’t sure really what to expect,” Fehlhafer said. “I just knew from everybody telling me that I could do some special things if I put my mind to it. I just had that mindset and tried my best. It all came together (at UNK). It was a pretty cool day.”
The exciting thing about Fehlhafer’s early rise is that there still appears to be plenty of room for development and growth. Losses in three of his four matches at the Desert Duals in Las Vegas in his most recent outing are sure to motivate him as the GPAC dual season gets into full swing.
“I think the sky’s the limit for Austin,” Vote said “As long as he keeps working he can achieve anything he wants to achieve. He definitely has great opportunities to be an All-American and possibly a national champion someday.”
Fehlhafer has already made a significant impact upon Concordia wrestling beyond his penchant for quickly disposing of his opponents. The hometown star has helped bring bigger crowds to Walz Arena, a place that is fast becoming a tough environment for Concordia foes.
“It means a lot,” Fehlhafer said of the chance to wrestle in his hometown. “There are a lot coming from Seward when we have home duals. I came to a home dual last year and there wasn’t near as many people. We want to get the Seward community to know about the Concordia program.”
Fehlhafer and a host of other key newcomers have begun to get the local spotlight shifting in the program’s direction.
Fortunately potential obstacles – such as a torn right meniscus and the pull of working full time at the family shop – moved aside for a fruitful collegiate wrestling career for Fehlhafer.
Even a summer wakeboarding accident failed to stop him from success on the mat this winter.
“I was trying to attempt a backflip and I ended up tearing my meniscus in my right knee,” Fehlhafer said. “That was a text message to Dana that I had to send. That wasn’t very fun. I was kind of nervous to tell him that I was having knee surgery the next day.”
All is forgiven. Good times lie ahead for Fehlhafer, who will gladly change your oil or replace your balding tire. Right now life is all about wrestling, school and fixing cars at the automotive shop.
Said Fehlhafer, donning his Napa Auto Parts hat and Midwest Automotive hoody, “Actually I’m about to go there now.”