Nate Rodriguez is quickly becoming one of the most decorated wrestlers in Neosho High School history.
A 132-pound senior, Rodriguez entered this season with the type of credentials that most wrestlers only hope to achieve in an entire career. A three-time varsity letterman under coach Jeremy Phillips, Rodriguez won state titles during his sophomore and junior campaigns after taking second in the state as a freshman.
Entering this season, Rodriguez, who bumped up from 126 pounds, was recognized nationally by several pu0blications as being one of the top wrestlers not only in Missouri, but the nation as well. For example, Intermatwrestling.com had Rodriguez listed at No. 19 in the 132-pound class at the start of the season, is still listed at No. 19 by flowrestling.org, and Wrestling USA Magazine tabbed him as the No. 12 senior in the nation at 126 pounds before the 2012-13 campaign.
They weren’t the only people to notice him, either. Division-I colleges quickly came calling too, as Mizzou, Harvard and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville jumped into the fracas for his collegiate services. But like most of his opponents, all three schools lost out to Rodriguez as Ouachita Baptist University, a Division-II school in Arkadelphia, Ark., secured his services. There he’ll follow former Wildcats teammate Dallas Smith.
“It was a little bit,” Rodriguez said of the toughness of his decision. “I mainly was focused on academics, but I just kind of prayed about it and felt Ouachita was the best for me.”
Rodriguez, who sits at 47-1 overall this season and 201-12 in his career, set further career marks last weekend at the Central Ozark Conference Tournament in Webb City when he claimed his fourth consecutive conference title, while becoming the first Neosho wrestler to reach the 200-win plateau.
Rodriguez picked up win No. 200 with a pin over Willard’s Kaleb Crook in 47 seconds in the semifinals, and then went on to capture a 13-3 major decision over Nick Plyter of Ozark to win the championship and secure win 201.
“It’s hard to believe that four seasons have already passed,” Rodriguez said. “It’s pretty exciting, but it’s kind of weird to think that I’ve wrestled over 200 matches.”
Rodriguez says these accolades wouldn’t be possible without great coaches and a great supporting staff, which has helped him become the wrestler he is today.
“I’d have to say the coaches have been a major influence,” Rodriguez said. “We had Dane (Espinosa) and Trey (Jackson). They were a big influence on me my freshman and sophomore years. I’ve also had Cody (Crocker), and he’s probably been the biggest influence on me, and Jeremy (Phillips) has always been a great head coach. It’s been fun and exciting in my career here.”
Page 2 of 2 - Phillips says the program has been lucky to have him.
“Nate is a unique young man in the sense of there aren’t many willing to devote the time and energy into their craft as he has,” Phillips said. “To be at the level he has taken himself over the course of his wrestling career means many hours of extra practices and training, with countless camps attended and very few days off from workouts in the weight room and mat for an entire high school career.
“He will finish with more wins in his career for our program, but (I) can also say that he will finish with more hours preparing for that accomplishment. He has sacrificed a lot to have the success he has had and will continue to have in his future.”
With the district and state championships fast approaching, Rodriguez has his sights set on extending his win total before his career at Neosho comes to a close — mainly by capturing the third district and state titles of his career.
“I’m just training, and we’re on a grind as a team right now,” Rodriguez said. “As a team we’re just training and looking for (a state championship) at the end. We’ve got our sights set on that goal.”
With a bright future ahead of him, Phillips says he won’t be surprised by any accomplishments Rodriguez has in store.
“It has been a pleasure watching him progress and seeing him grow into the wrestler and young man that he is today,” Phillips said. “It will be exciting to see all that this young man will do on and off the mat in his future.
“Nothing he has done or will do will be a surprise to me though. He deserves all that he has accomplished.”