Community mourns loss of UPJ wrestling star

RICHLAND TOWNSHIP -- The community is mourning the unexpected death of a standout wrestler Saturday night.

The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown identified the student who died as 23-year-old Nicholas Roberts, a senior in the class of 2017 who was majoring in criminology.

Cambria County Coroner Jeff Lees said an autopsy was performed Sunday on Roberts. Lees said the manner of death is pending toxicology results and microscopic studies.

Lees said Roberts was found in his dorm room on UPJ's campus by friends around 9:15 p.m. Saturday.

Those who knew Roberts said he was one heck of a wrestler with a great personality who gave his all to the sport that was the love of his life.

The UPJ campus was quiet Sunday afternoon after many learned of Roberts' death. It shocked those on campus and across the country.

"He just brought a smile to your face. Just a great young man,” UPJ wrestling coach Pat Pecora said. “We just had a great relationship and he was just one of the kindest, gentlest young men you want to know."

Pecora said Roberts' life was short, but he had a big impact on this area, the state of Pennsylvania and the nation.

"On the mat, he was a hammer,” Pecora said. “He was tough, one of the toughest guys I've ever coached, but as a person he's just someone you wanted to hug and bring home."

Roberts went to North Star High School in Boswell, where he was a three-time PIAA champion, and started his collegiate career at Ohio State, but wanted to return home to be close to family and friends.

Last year, he became a Division II national champion.

"To have him come out and win a national title, you know, for us, it was just a major impact on not only the school, but the community," Pecora said.

Pecora said the wrestling team is very close and it’s a tough loss for everyone.

"It's a brotherhood. They're brothers. They've lost a brother,” Pecora said. “And they're going to stick together and help each other through it, just like Nick would (have) wanted."

It's not just the athletes who were close. Pecora said he and Roberts also developed a close bond over the course of his career.

"I think he saw that it was more than just him as a wrestler,” Pecora said. “We had that, what I like to call, father-son type of relationship."

Grief counseling is available in the student union until 9 p.m. Sunday. Counselors will also be available all next week during school hours.

A memorial service will be held on Monday to honor Roberts' life. Officials said the ceremony will be at Whalley Chapel at 4 p.m.

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