The motherload would be if Rochester Community and Technical College’s new wrestling coach Travis Rutt was actually eligible to wrestle in a few matches this season.
That’s not going to happen, but Rutt would scare the heck out of opponents. The 29-year-old Rutt was one of the best 184-pounders in the country while competing at the University of Wisconsin, and then among the country’s best 197-pounders after transferring to wrestling power University of Oklahoma.
But it isn’t Rutt's physical powers that he calls on anymore. Now, it’s his wrestling teaching acumen and people skills that he leans on, and he’s hoping it can help carry RCTC to new heights.
Rutt is taking over for Randy Rager, who stepped down at the end of last season after 15 years as RCTC’s head wrestling coach. The 43-year-old Rager hands off a program that he built into one of junior college’s best. RCTC won non-scholarship division national championships in 2014, 2017 and this past season. Rager was named national non-scholarship division Coach of the Year each of those championship seasons.
Now, it is Rutt's turn to see what he can do. Rager, who will be acting as an assistant for him, is optimistic.
“RCTC wrestling is good right now,” Rager said. “But Travis is going to make it even better.”
Rutt is a high school graduate of Jackson County Central, though he began at New Prague. His high school wrestling career spanned six years, Rutt making it to state in all of them and winning state titles twice.
His gaudy on-mat reputation would figure to have left an impression on the wrestlers he’s recruiting.
But alas, he says, many of them aren’t familiar with his feats.
“With the younger generation, you are only relevant for so long,” Rutt said with a laugh. “But a lot of their dads know who I am.”
Rutt's plan is to keep building on what Rager’s already established at RCTC. He has a sense of what goes into coaching at the junior college level, having served as Rager’s assistant the last two years.
Rager says that Rutt has the right stuff and that it goes well beyond his ability to teach wrestling moves.
“It’s his demeanor and just the way he is with the guys,” Rager said. “Recruiting wise, he’s done a great job here. He is easy to get along with.”
Rager said that Rutt also has a feel for dealing with kids from tough backgrounds, or ones who might need special guidance in the classroom. Junior colleges, he says, draw plenty of athletes who’ve been challenged in some way.
“We have kids who come from a lot of different circumstances here,” Rager said. “To do this job, you have to be able to understand where kids are coming from. In the past, maybe they didn’t have the kind of help they needed. Travis does a good job of reading those athletes and figuring things out for kids. And that is important, because it is our job to get them to the next level, academically and athletically.”
Rutt had college wrestling coaching experience prior to landing at RCTC two years ago, where he’s employed as its Student Life Coordinator, helping organize campus events.
Rutt has been an assistant coach at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Augsburg College in Minneapolis, the University of Oklahoma (graduate assistant) and the University of Iowa , where he was the wrestling program's strength and conditioning coach before joining Rager’s staff.
Now, it is his turn to be a head coach. He’s off to a nice start, with 16-18 new RCTC recruits set to join the 13-14 wrestlers returning to the program. It’s a different feel than last year, when RCTC returned just a handful of wrestlers from the year before.
Still, he’d love a repeat of last season. Not only did the Yellowjackets finish as national champions, but Rutt had the time of his life.
“That was the most fun I’ve ever had in coaching,” Rutt said. “Watching the development of these guys through the year was so fun. Guys bought in. They realized the work they put in would pay off in the back end. We had a lot of fun, with a balanced lifestyle socially, academically and athletically. It all fed off the other.”