Sizzling Six: Nate Fitzgerald
ON THE HOT SEAT: The co-op between Lourdes and John Marshall for wrestling will end soon, but that hasn't deterred Lourdes standout Nate Fitzgerald. The senior was a two-way starter for the Lourdes football team in the fall, helping the Eagles secure...
ON THE HOT SEAT:The co-op between Lourdes and John Marshall for wrestling will end soon, but that hasn't deterred Lourdes standout Nate Fitzgerald. The senior was a two-way starter for the Lourdes football team in the fall, helping the Eagles secure a state title at U.S. Bank Stadium in November. Fitzgerald's improvement on the football from his junior season to his senior season was significant. Much of that improvement can be attributed to the time Fitzgerald spent in the wrestling room at John Marshall High School.
Following what Fitzgerald said was a disappointing junior season of football — the Eagles failed to advance to state, and Fitzgerald said that's unacceptable at Lourdes — the then-junior was looking for ways he could increase his skills on the football field. He landed on wrestling. So, though he had never seen the inside of a wrestling room, Fitzgerald went out for the ultra demanding sport for the very first time as a high school junior.
Success didn't come quickly. Fitzgerald spent most of his first season on the JM junior varsity team. But he stuck with it. And now, he's finding success, despite having just one year of mat time. We caught up with Fitzgerald as he was preparing for his first varsity section tournament (the Section 1AAA team tournament starts Thursday, and the individual tournament starts Feb. 24).
1. What got you started in wrestling?
FITZ: The biggest reason I got into wrestling was to make me a better football player. Toward the end of my junior season, I had time on my hands. I was trying to decide whether I should focus on lifting, Olympic lifts or going out for a winter sport. After looking into it, I realized wrestling really helps football players. I talked to Riley Orr about it a lot. He basically said it wasn't high pressure, I could come for the first few weeks, and if I liked it, I could stick with it. I came in and met everyone. They welcomed me with open arms. I remember that first day, I wrestled with Kori McCarthy. He equated it to football and showed me a blast double and said it's just like tackling someone. My first JV match, I was going against a kid from Simley. I hit that blast double right away, and I got called for clasping. I had no idea what clasping was. So on the mat, after that takedown, the kid ended up pretty quickly turning me and pinning me. I remember thinking maybe wrestling wasn't for me at that moment. But I stuck with it. And now, it's something I've fallen in love with quickly. My only regret now is not joining wrestling sooner.
2. As someone who just recently picked up the sport, what's the biggest misconception you think people have about wrestling?
FITZ: I think they don't understand how tired you are after a wrestling match. I've never been so tired in my life. I ran 400 in track, and other longer races, and nothing compares to it. I've started both ways in football, just not even close to it. I think my second or third match in, I was wrestling a kid from Mankato West. It went to OT. He shot on me, and I mustered up the last bit of strength I had to defend. I came off the mat, blue in the face, seeing stars. I remember thinking, 'Yeah, this is harder than football.' It's just a different kind of shape. No amount of running can prepare you for it. There's running shape, there's football shape, and then there's wrestling shape.
3. How would you compare a wrestling practice to a football practice?
FITZ: A football practice, at least at Lourdes, is much more strategic. We prepare for our opponents during the week; usually by that time, the technique and heavy lifting are done. We take care of that early in the season so we can take care of business later in the season. Wrestling overall is much more intense. I look at like my main training partner (Elijah Hollins). He's one of the most intense guys in the wrestling room. I had the chance to train with him all year, and he pushes me to get better. He's intense at all times.
4. Rochester Public Schools recently decided to end its co-op with Lourdes for wrestling. That means a kid like you can no longer wrestle for JM. Was that whole situation frustrating for you as a Lourdes kid?
FITZ: Yes, very frustrating. I'll try to mince my words here, but for example, a kid like Seth Haight. He's a seventh-grader, just tough as nails and huge into wrestling. Now that opportunity could be taken away from him. That's frustrating to say the least. I think the people who wanted to dissolve the co-op didn't look beyond the wins and losses.
5. You're having a very good year with a 19-11 record. Did you see that coming?
FITZ: I definitely felt myself improving a lot over the first season. I spent almost an entire year wrestling JV, getting only a handful of varsity matches. I think I went 1-4 in my varsity matches. But my losses were all to ranked kids so I just assumed that's what varsity wrestling was. But I'm a kid who went from getting pinned in a JV match to being competitive on varsity. I did the Luther summer camp, and they didn't have many upper weights, so I wrestled guys at 220 pounds and heavyweight. I think I was like 7-3 against some tough competition. Having that success cooled my nerves a little; it kept my head in it.
6. You've done something that's virtually unheard of, going out for wrestling later in life and finding success. What's made that transition easier for you?
FITZ: I think almost all of my success comes from the amazing people who've surrounded me. I look at people like (Hollins), coach (Mike Kesler), Logan Saltou, I've had so many people there for me. Saltou still helps to this day. I can call him at any time, and he's always got advice for me, tweaks I can make to finish a certain move. He's always jumped at every opportunity to help me, and I appreciate that so much. I've been blessed with awesome coaches throughout my high school career. They've all helped.