Nico DeSalvo has big dreams.
The 11-year-old Luling boy, who began wrestling at just four years of age, hopes to one day become a four-time national champion collegiate wrestler, a world champion and an Olympic champion. And if that sounds like a pie in the sky idea, a quick read of his accomplishments in the sport will likely change that perception quickly: he’s ranked as the nation’s No. 14 competitor among ages 12 and under by USA Wrestling, and at his weight class, he’s ranked even higher, third in the country. It’s believed he’s the first youth wrestler from Louisiana to earn multiple national crowns.
He’s garnered over 100 medals, is a multi-time state champion and a two-time national tournament champion. It’s believed he’s the first youth wrestler from Louisiana to earn multiple national crowns, and is one of just two youth wrestlers from Louisiana ranked on the list, along with his teammate Caleb Kirk—the two wrestle for Bayou Elite Wrestling Team under coach Ryak Fitch.
“I love this a lot,” DeSalvo said. “My dad’s done martial arts since he was a young kid too. I thought it would be fun … after my first year, I felt like, ‘Hey, I’m kind of getting good at this.’”
He also does ju-jitsu training with his father, Darren DeSalvo, at his gym in Boutte, Cyclone Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
“He wrestles 365,” he said. “In Louisiana, wrestling hasn’t become as big as you see in some other places. To get really good in this sport, you have to travel and face others who do this year-round. People say, you don’t want to burn them out, but this is what he wants to do. We’d never want to push him to do something he doesn’t have the passion for, but if it’s what he wants, we’re gonna provide what he needs.”
The key? Nico doesn’t view it as work.
“My mindset is it’s impossible to burn out on a sport if you love the sport,” Nico said. “You can’t burn out if you love something. Every time I win, it makes me want to go even more. I always feel like there’s something to prove.”
He called his first national tournament win “overwhelming,” as while he entered with confidence, he knew he was facing the best the country had to offer.
“I started to cry, I was so happy. I jumped in the air … it was like, ‘Did I really just do this?’ I knew it would be tough but that if I pulled it off, it would change everything.’”
His skills have gone noticed by some of the mat’s most exceptional stars. David Taylor, one of Nico’s heroes, met the latter and his family at a wrestling World Cup event in Iowa, weeks after Nico earned his 2018 national tournament championship. Taylor, who reigned as the freestyle world champion at 2018, recruited Nico to join his dual team—a thrill for the 11-year-old, who has a bobblehead of Taylor in his room.
His mother, Leslie, said she’s most proud of the dedication she sees her son displaying at such a young age.
“It’s so much hard work … everyone sees the wins and the glory, but we see him pushing to make it happen,” she said. “His work ethic is really amazing.”
As for that national ranking, Nico’s proud — but in no way satisfied.
“I was actually a bit disappointed when I saw it, because I want to be the best,” he said. “But I realized this isn’t out of just a couple kids … it’s the whole country. A trillion people could be in third, and I’m there … I do want to be No. 1, though.”