Nate Rotert – FCA Feature
By Andrew Sogn
Nate Rotert enters the month of February as the nation’s ninth-ranked wrestler at 197 pounds, and has his sights set on an All-American finish to his collegiate career.
The Spearfish, South Dakota product boasts an 18-2 record in the 2017-18 season, and including his freshman season of unattached wrestling, has won 110 matches as a Jackrabbit.
He’s a three-time NCAA qualifier at 197 pounds, finished second at the 2016 Big 12 Conference Championships and is a senior leader on a Jackrabbit wrestling squad that has reached new heights during his time on campus.
The man is special.
What he’s done on the mat, however, doesn’t compare to the success he’s found in what he deems the most important thing in his life: his relationship with Christ.
“I was born into a great family home and raised as a Christian,” is the start to his faith story as the listener settles into their chair expecting to hear an all-too-common tale: ‘I walked away in college and returned to church after my rebellious years.’
Not true for Nate, however. Remember, he’s special.
Rotert came to State in 2013 and immediately plugged himself into FCA, using a tip from football coach John Stigelmeier.
“I was recruited here for football as well as wrestling, and had a relationship with Coach Stig. I sent him a message that I knew he was a Christian, and that I was involved in FCA in high school and wanted to know if there was anything like that at SDSU. He put me in contact with T.J. (Carlson), and literally since day one I’ve been plugged in.”
As simple as it was to find a faith-based group, it wasn’t always smooth sailing to get to where he is now, however.
After arriving on campus with big dreams, the young Jackrabbit was dealt a blindside hit in August 2013, getting the heartbreaking news that his best friend, Derek Hall, was killed in a car crash back in Spearfish.
“I had a rough start that year,” Rotert says while reliving the painful memory. “He (Derek) was my go-to guy for everything, and not knowing anyone up here or having anyone to go to, it was hard. Christ has had his hand on me, though, and was really leading me through that time.
Rotert dealt with the grief in similar fashion to others, asking the “why him?” questions over-and-over while struggling with the answers.
“It was hard for a long time, because I saw the good in him (Derek), and was so critical of myself that I thought, ‘how does someone like him get taken when there are people like me, or others, who have so much to work on.’”
The self-evaluation brought answers, and four years later Rotert has found peace with the tragedy.
“I realize now that life is eternal for Him and I. He’s been taken from me, but we’ll reunite again.”
Those answers, in turn, have brought motivation for the Jackrabbit leader.
“It’s a process to this day, but it starts to become something that motivates you instead of bringing you down. Now, I wrestle for those who can’t.”
Drawing inspiration from those he has lost – grandparents, friends and others – he is in the midst of his best season yet. Alongside him in that journey are teammates who have become brothers.
Within college athletics, teammates become friends simply because of proximity. Countless hours of practice, study hall, travel and team activities can become a grind, and it’s easier to get through the challenges when you get along with the people in the room.
It takes more, however, to turn them into brothers.
The Jackrabbit wrestling program is similar to others, but with this group, something is different.
“There’s not a lot of talk with our group, but there’s a lot of action with our team when it comes to living out faith. We’ve got a lot of believers on the team from different walks, and it’s really easy to just grow together. You have the perception of wrestlers that we’re a hard-nosed, gritty group with our sport, but at the same time we’re a bunch of softies. We keep each other on track with our faith.”
Just as iron sharpens iron, Rotert points to teammates for a major role in his relationship with Christ.
“David Kocer, I live with him, and he’s going to Church every morning. That pushes me to spend time with Christ every morning and continue to grow. It’s just so easy with this group, everyone pushes each other to be better.”
Beyond the brotherhood of his wrestling teammates, Rotert mentions FCA as another component in developing his faith, forcing him into a leadership role and challenging him to teach and lead the faith with intentionality.
“The relationships I made with the families and kids while working the FCA’s summer rec program are so special to me. Those families did more for me than I ever could for them.”
The most important part of FCA for Rotert, though, is the relationships with fellow student-athletes.
“It just comes down to the people,” he said. “Whether its T.J. (Carlson), Shayne Gottlob, my wife (Chloe), Charlie Harmon, all those guys – Brady Mengarelli or (Jake) Wieneke – you see all these guys and know what they do on the field, but it humbles you to see who they really are - that they are Christians and followers of Jesus who know what’s important.”
The twilight of Rotert’s time as a Jackrabbit is approaching, but no matter where it stands at the end of the season, it’s important to remember this: He’s run the race well, fought the good fight, and inspired others by living out his faith in impressive fashion.