Christian County’s Niko Bussell was a fixture on the defensive side of the ball for the Colonels last season and while they didn’t get a victory, Bussell didn’t let that deter him when he hit the mat for wrestling season.
After 39 wins his senior year, Bussell ended his final season as a Colonel on top as he won the 220-pound KHSAA State Wrestling title.
It’s Bussell’s work ethic and drive to win that makes him this year’s Toyota of Hopkinsville Southern Pennyrile Wrestling Athlete of the Year.
“That’s like the utmost gratification,” Christian County wrestling coach Robert Burnham said. “You get to that point where a kid has worked that hard and for them to finish on top and have worked that hard and worked that long to get there, it’s very satisfying because we had so many kids that got close.”
Bussell did exactly what an athlete wants to do as he progressed every year at the state tournament as he placed all four years of high school.
Bussell went from eighth-place as a freshman and climbed the ladder to a runner-up finished in 2019 before grabbing a championship in 2020 after a 39-1 record to close out his Colonel career.
“One of the things we have always worked for is don’t wait for your senior year,” Burnham said. “Niko’s probably the epitome of don’t want until your senior year,” Burnham said. “He placed four times and continually got better.”
The senior said the work was worth it.
“I put in a lot,” he said. “After last season, I pushed myself even more. Just to dominate, be more aggressive than last year. Do extra workouts with coach Dee (Leavell).”
Leavell, along with the assortment of other coaches for the Cols, including Burnham, gave their athletes everything they needed to succeed.
But, Burnham said he can’t take the credit.
“It says a lot about the coaching staff that I’ve been able to put together because it definitely isn’t because of me,” he said. “The guys I have are getting the most out of what they’re putting in. Our program is at that point where we always wanted it to be. I can’t say we’re at Union yet but we’re at the reloading rather than rebuilding.”
Bussell said going back to his time in middle school, the program didn’t have the buzz it does now.
He said it was then he knew what he wanted to achieve.
“I always knew because I won it in middle school …” he said. “They just kept pushing me after that.”
After Jakerion Merritt broke the state champion drought for Christian County last season, Bussell said he knew his time was coming.
“I knew I had to be the next up,” he said.
Burnham drove the bus for the Colonel football team and he had several wrestlers on the squad.
He said they had to have a different mindset when it came to wrestling.
“The one thing I will say about most of our kids is that there’s no quit in them,” he said. “He couldn’t have, A.J. (Harvey), J.T. (Adams), any of them could have come in after the football season they had and been like ‘I just want to win a match so I can feel what winning feels like.’ ”
Bussell said it simply when asked if all the blood, sweat and tears equaled the reward.
“It paid off.”
All-KNE Wrestling Team
Niko Bussell, Christian Co.
Jakerion Merritt, Christian Co.
Colin Stevens, Trigg Co.
Gage Fowler, Christian Co.
JaRi Campbell, Christian Co.
Trushawn Matt, Hopkinsville
Ethan Wells, Christian Co.
Austin Grant-Hall, Christian Co.
Zlatko Skuljan, Hopkinsville
Neal Aldridge, Christian Co.
J.T. Adams, Christian Co.
Cameron Coleman, Christian Co.
A.J. Harvey, Christian Co.
Jesus Avila, Fort Campbell
Denarius Barnes, Hopkinsville
Andrew Hendricks, Trigg Co.
TyDarius Kelly, Christian Co.