During the lull in the action on courts, mats and fields during the summer months, the Minnesota College Athletic Conference is highlighting some of the many dedicated professional staff and coaches who make the MCAC a great league for student-athletes to pursue both athletic and academic opportunities. Today's release is the fourth in the series and features one of the most successful wrestling coaches in the NJCAA: Randy Rager, head wrestling coach at Rochester Community and Technical College.
The MCAC was able to catch up with Coach Rager last week to learn more about his background, coaching influences and proudest moments. With RCTC coming off a season in which they were nation's best non-scholarship NJCAA wrestling program, the sights are set even higher for the 2017-18 campaign. Rochester was featured in the national rankings for most of the 2016-17 season, and it is important to note that the RCTC wrestling program (and all other MCAC programs) compete nationally with other two-year college sports teams which offer partial or full scholarships to their grapplers. At last year's NJCAA Wrestling national tournament held in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Rochester was the top non-scholarship program in the team standings coming in ninth overall with 61.5 points.
As a prep athlete at Perquot Lakes High School, Rager excelled on the wrestling mat, and also competed in football and track for the Patriots. Growing up in near Brainerd, Minnesota, but having been in southern Minnesota for over a decade, Rager has become a fixture state-wide for the sport, which is sponsored by five NJCAA programs in the MCAC (RCTC, Northland, Minnesota West, Ridgewater and Itasca), as well as several NCAA Division I, II and III colleges. One of the longest tenured coaches in both college wrestling and at Rochester Community and Technical College, Rager is heading into his 13th season at the helm of the Yellowjacket program.
Along with his coaching duties, Rager serves as a full-time faculty member in the Health/Physical Education/Recreation program on the Rochester campus. Rager notes that is dual role helps him guide his student-athletes in all facets of their college experience and doesn't limit him to only seeing his athletes in practice. For his efforts in the 2016-17 season, Rager was honored with the 2017 NJCAA Coach-of-the-Year award while his team competed at nationals in Council Bluffs last February.
What led you to RCTC? RR-"The coaching position brought me to RCTC. There are not a lot of college wrestling coach positions, and you need to start somewhere. I wanted to coach in college and Rochester was as good of a place to start as anywhere else was. I had also been down to Rochester several times for wrestling, and knew it had potential to be a solid wrestling program."
Rager went on to report- "When I first started, it wasn't easy. I continued to work a concrete job in the cities and my wife had two jobs in the Rochester area. We didn't have any kids at the time and neither of us are afraid to work, so until my job was more stable at RCTC we scraped by."
How long have you been a Yellowjacket?: RR-"This year will be my thirteenth at RCTC. My position is much more stable as I not only am the wrestling coach, but (am) also a full-time faculty member teaching in the Health/Physical Education/Recreation Program. The stability has helped with the success of our program as well. I am at the college every day and easily accessible to our guys. If they need anything, I can help them out."
Who have been some important influences in your coaching career? RR- "Many of the other coaches that I have worked with over my career have given me guidance and influenced my coaching style. They probably don't even realize that they are doing it. I've always felt that wrestling and coaching are an endless learning process. I've seen both the good and the not so good in coaches and try to focus on picking up the things that will help our program and student athletes."
Wrestling has a strong presence in the Upper Midwest. What do you think can be done to help grow the sport at the college level?
RR: "I think one of the major things is to create an awareness for the sport at the elementary and high school levels. This awareness will increase participants, which will trickle into an increase at the college level. The current lack of exposure is one of the reasons that wrestling was nearly pulled from the Olympic Games."
What does 2017-18 hold for your team? Any predictions about how the season will go?
RR- "This past season went well winning our second NJCAA National Title (finishing as the top non-scholarship NJCAA at the National Tournament). Many guys from this past season will be returning, and recruiting has been going well. I feel that we have the pieces in place to win another National Title in 2018."
As one would expect with a squad that has had tremendous success historically at the state, regional and national levels over the years, Rager describes his program's philosophy in strong and concise fashion: RR- "Our program philosophy is guided by three values: Become a better person, Become a better student, Become a better wrestler. These values are necessary for success on and off the wrestling mat. "
As Minnesota wrestlers spend time at summer camps, in the weight room and in other off-season preparations, it is safe to say that the Yellowjackets of Rochester Community and Technical College will be more than ready to defend their turf - and their trophy case - when the 2017-18 wrestling season rolls around this winter.