Kearney, Neb. – As Tervel Dlagnev prepares for his second Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August, he’s making an important stop – a stop in Kearney, the place he developed from a run-of-the-mill wrestler to a force to be reckoned with on the national and world level.
A Columbus, Ohio, resident now, Dlagnev likes to reminisce by walking around the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus or cruising down 25th Street.
He used to live across the street from an yogurt shop, TCBY, during college. “They took that away, so that was a bummer,” Dlagnev laughed.
But before Dlagnev frequented all of the hot spots around Kearney, he was a self-described unmotivated teenager going through the motions at Arlington High School right outside of Dallas.
“I played video games. I was failing my classes and didn’t do a lot of homework,” Dlagnev, who was born in Bulgaria but moved to the U.S. at a young age, recalled of his youth. “I didn’t do anything passionately. I just tried to get through life the easy way.”
During his P.E. class, Dlagnev would keep an eye on the wrestlers.
Dlagnev’s teacher was also the girl’s basketball coach. Another P.E. teacher at Arlington High School was Henry Harmoney, a former UNK graduate assistant and the school’s wrestling coach.
The two instructors would often pass names along to one another if they thought they found someone who might be good at the other coach’s sport.
Harmoney scooped Dlagnev out of the class and asked him to become a part the wrestling team. Wanting to lose a little weight and get in shape, Dlagnev quickly joined, wrestling at the junior varsity level as a sophomore.
The heavyweight wrestler quickly learned the ropes and placed third and fourth at the state tournament over the next two years.
Dlagnev knew that he wanted to keep wrestling, too.
“That’s when I got my grades up, and when I got really motivated about getting into college,” Dlagnev said. “The biggest thing I remember thinking was I don’t want to do this for only two years.”
While Dlganev was starting to come into his own as a wrestler, he wasn’t a highly sought after recruit.
Harmoney remembers trying to get him into the University of Oklahoma program.
“I tried to sell him to Oklahoma because they were close, and I knew the coach a little,” Harmoney said. “But he kind of blew me off.”
While Harmoney had ties to UNK, so too did his assistant Andrew Bauer, who’s the brother of UNK head coach Marc Bauer. In years past, Harmoney had sent kids up from Texas to Nebraska.
Harmoney accompanied Dlagnev on his official visit to UNK and the young wrestler hit it off with Keenan McCurdy and Jeff Rutledge, who were high school teammates at Lincoln East.
“I don’t know how they hit it off so well but they clicked,” Bauer said. “They liked to joke with each other. They were all playful, light-hearted jokesters.”