As a youth growing up in the Gallatin Valley, Jarrett Degen admired Tyrel Todd and Jade Rauser. And why not — they both became All-American Division I wrestlers from Montana.
Now Degen, who competes for Iowa State, can call them peers.
The former four-time state champion from Belgrade earned All-American honors over the weekend at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Pittsburgh, Penn. Degen reached the quarterfinals at 149 pounds before placing seventh on Saturday.
By finishing in the top 8, Degen became the first-ever All-American grappler from Belgrade High.
“It’s special,” he said, reached by cell phone Sunday afternoon. “You hear All-American when you’re a kid and you’re like, ‘Holy cow, that’s what I want to be. That’s my dream.’”
Family, friends and plenty of others reached out via social media to congratulate the redshirt sophomore, including Rauser and Todd. Rauser, a four-time state champion from Broadwater County in Townsend, earned All-American honors in 2016 at Utah Valley State. Todd shined at Bozeman High before becoming a three-time All-American wrestler at Purdue.
“It all comes full circle, the people you look up to are now telling you congrats and everything,” said Degen. “For Belgrade it’s special. Hopefully we get more kids coming out of Belgrade wrestling and going to big schools and becoming All-Americans. It’s every little kid’s dream.”
Degen was the Cyclones’ lone grappler to advance to the NCAA tournament a year ago after transferring from Virginia Tech. It was a grueling three days of competition, but he finished 4-2 on the weekend en route to accomplishing a lifelong goal.
“Mentally and physically I’m a little sore and beat up. It’s a tough three days of wrestling, but I feel good and I’m happy about it,” he said. “It’s a childhood dream and goal come true and there’s more goals and dreams above even this. But I’m happy to reach one of my goals and dreams, so it was good weekend.”
Degen, who was an eight seed, reached the quarterfinals by posting a major decision in the opening round and then beating North Carolina State’s Cortland Schuyler, 11-8, in round two.
That set up a match against unbeaten Anthony Ashnault. The Rutgers senior won 10-3 en route to winning the national title and finishing 32-0.
“Six-year senior. Strong, tough kid. That’s kind of what I got to be next year,” said Degen. “Kind of striving myself after him ... I’m just going to strive to be like that. Win every match and dominate every match next year.”
Degen bounced backed in the loser-out bracket to beat Pennsylvania’s Anthony Artaiona 6-5, which clinched All-American status. He finished one victory shy of reaching that goal a year ago in the same weight class.
“Getting to the round of 12 last year as a freshman, it just showed me that I belonged. If I lacked confidence it just made me more confident in my abilities to be a D-I wrestler and D-I All-American,” said Degen. “That’s what just kind of pushed me and I ended up in the blood rounds again this year and had to win to get to the All-American place. Just being in that position last year made me more used to it and more ready for it this year.”
Degen lost to Missouri’s Brock Mauller, 10-7, in the consolation quarterfinals. But he battled back from an early 6-2 hole to defeat Iowa’s Pat Lugo in the seventh place match.
Lugo led by four after the first period before Degen rallied to knot the score at 8-all heading into the third. Degen eventually pulled in front on a late take down en route to victory.
Trailing early has become second nature to Degen.
“I usually get taken down first in almost all my matches. Coaches don’t like it, but it happens,” he said. “So I kind of dig myself a hole and I just believe in my conditioning, my technique and my mindset that you just got to keep going and keep going.”
Degen, who finished the season with a 29-8 record, noted that being the aggressor early is something he plans to work on in the offseason as well as creating a “go-to” shot.
“If I get down I’m not really getting down on myself. It pushes me harder to wrestle harder and get those scores back,” said Degen. “Sometimes I can’t get them all back because I’m in too big of a deficit and that’s another thing I need to work on is not giving up that first take down and a couple points and getting myself in a hole.”
While thrilled with his finish, Degen also praised his teammates. Iowa State, which qualified nine wrestlers for the tournament, finished 16th with 32 points and sixth-year senior Willie Miklus also earned All-American honors after placing sixth at 197 pounds.
“That really meant a lot to him and his family and the team, and everyone around him,” said Degen. “It meant a lot for him to get that.”
With this season in the books, Degen is already looking toward next year. And, for those who know him, expect a higher podium finish come 2020.
“I’m happy, I’ve been telling people that I’m happy with my performance and everything. It’s an honor to be an All-American,” Degen said. “But happy and satisfied are two different things. Satisfied would be a national champ. I’m excited to be an All-American, don’t get me wrong, but the goal is and the dream is to be a national champ for the Iowa State Cyclones.”