An accomplished collegiate wrestler, Concordia University graduate Ceron Francisco continues to chase his dreams on the mat while also coaching within the GPAC. Francisco’s dive into freestyle wrestling has brought him all over the country and to Havana, Cuba. The native of Fayetteville, N.C., is hoping to one day wrestle on the Olympic stage.
As a Bulldog, Francisco earned two All-America awards and was the 2017 NAIA heavyweight national runner up and 2017 GPAC Wrestler of the Year. He won two GPAC titles, qualified for nationals three times and had a career record of 100-52. Francisco played a starring role in three GPAC championship seasons at Concordia. He currently serves as an assistant coach at Doane.
First off, what has the COVID-19 era been like for you over the past few months?
I can’t really say it’s been bad. Just have to go with the flow. I worked out until I couldn’t anymore and then got a job. I couldn’t go back to school (Doane) so I’ve just been working and playing the waiting game kind of like everybody else.
How challenging is that for someone like you who continues to compete after college and is trying to stay at a really high level?
It’s actually been nice not having to train as hard. I haven’t had this time off since probably my freshman year in college. At first it was kind of hard been then I changed my mindset to think of it as a recovery period. I’m staying grateful. You have to keep the right mindset. It’s God’s will. We don’t know what’s happening. You have to go with it. God’s will is done and I just do what I have to do.
What are you hoping for to be the next step in your wrestling career?
The goal was to qualify for the Olympic Trials this year and to make the team. When I was at the Olympic Training Center in New York early in March, that’s when everything got shut down. We were getting ready for the Pan American Games. That week when I got back everything got crazy so I didn’t get to wrestle in the trials. They canceled the Olympics essentially. The goal is to keep preparing when I’m able to and be ready for the next tournament, whether that’s on U.S. soil or something overseas that I get sponsored for. I’m just staying positive and waiting for that opportunity. I still have a lot of years left to have another chance.
What’s been the biggest thrill for you so far in your post-collegiate wrestling career?
Just being able to rub shoulders and bump elbows with guys I used to study and coaches who I admire. We know each other on a first-name basis now. Some of them are legends in the sport. I can call them and talk to them whenever. The journey of being in the mix with the top guys is a lot of fun. Obviously I want to be the No. 1 guy here soon. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be around those guys. There are a lot of guys I’ve met who I looked up to when I first started wrestling. For example, Kerry McCoy (a two-time NCAA champion) was probably one of the best heavyweights in U.S. history. I probably talk to him once a month and train with him a lot.
Where have you traveled in your wrestling career so far?
So far I’ve only been outside the country to Havana, Cuba. A lot of my competitions have been in the U.S. I’ve been to New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania – wrestling is pretty big there. They hold a lot of high level events. The U.S. Open this past year was in Texas, which I had never been before. Once you make the national team then you leave the States more often. That’s the goal.
What was the biggest thing you got out of your experience as a resident athlete at Virginia?
The biggest thing is knowing that when I was in college with Dana (Vote) as the coach, we tried at a high level. UVA has top level guys and coaches. The training was very similar to what we did in college. That’s why we had a lot of success. What I did competing in the GPAC reflected the things we did (at Virginia).
When you think back on your Concordia career, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
Just the camaraderie we had. We had a really good team. It will be a hard team to recreate no matter who’s there. That was a special group that went in together and graduated together. We all got matching tattoos – me, Dmitri (Smith), Kodie (Cole) and Ken (Burkhardt Jr.). We have the Concordia cross on our bodies for life. I think that just shows how much we appreciate our brotherhood together.
Now that you’ve been coaching at Doane, what’s been most rewarding about being a coach?
There are a lot of different things. We had a national champion this year, but I think the biggest thing is being able to mentor guys and practice what I preach. I can give first-hand accounts to the athletes of what I’m telling them to do because I went through it.
Nebraska pulled you right back in. What have you appreciated about life in Nebraska?
It’s very slow paced and full of good people. It wasn’t a hard decision to make once I felt like I put my time in at Virginia and was ready to reset. Nebraska is pretty much like coming back home.
Do you have an ultimate goal for what you want to accomplish in wrestling in terms of athletically or coaching?
The ultimate goal would be to get a world or Olympic medal. There are steps I have to take to get there and I’m willing to do that. With the situation we’re in I’m just thankful for the opportunities that I’ve had so far. If I never wrestled again, I know I’ve made a lot of great connections and had a lot of good experiences. God willing if we get to compete, the goal will still be the same – make the team and go get a medal for my country.