GREAT FALLS – Montana churns out more NCAA Division I caliber wrestlers than just about any other sport. Several state champs dot the rosters of some of the nation’s top programs.
The wrestling team at North Dakota State boasts a trio of four-time Montana state champions. Belgrade’s Sawyer Degen is entering his redshirt sophomore season with the Bison while Luke and Michael Weber of Forsyth begin the campaign as a junior and freshman respectively.
We caught up with the Montana guys on a recent trip to Fargo for our Sunday Conversation.
LUKE WEBER, NDSU REDSHIRT JUNIOR (FORSYTH)
MTN SPORTS: Starting your first full year in Fargo after transferring from Nebraska last December. Nice to have a little more familiarity with the team and place under your belt?
LUKE: “Yeah. Getting that first a semester out of the way was a little bit of an adjustment, figuring out what the classes were and getting ready for that. Heck cold wind. Oh, it’s brutal up here. But I think the transfer was really good. I like where I'm at.”
MTN SPORTS: What into the decision to transfer to NDSU?
LUKE: “What kind of went into the decision was to transfer closer to home. And then I was talking to Michael and he was thinking about coming here and then they just offered me a good deal here. Once I got into the portal and they got ahold of me - I have no regrets coming up here.”
MTN SPORTS: You mentioned the cold wind? You’re a Forsyth guy, is it colder up here?
LUKE: (laughs) Sometimes. Sometimes it is. I'm not gonna say Montana's not cold, but we know how it is. It's just it's so flat up here that wind is biting.
MTN SPORTS: Being able to wrestle with your brother Michael again. How special is that?
LUKE: “It's nice, I used to beat up on him when he was a freshman when I was a senior. Nothing's really changed. I still show him who the top dog is.”
MTN SPORTS: I saw your dad in the stands cheering and chatting with you between rounds. Is it different having him in the crowd instead of in your corner?
LUKE: “To be honest. It's not much different, just years of having that attuned ear trained to his voice, I can pick it up from anywhere in the crowd. So it's almost like he's still in my corner yelling at me.”
MTN SPORTS: Living in Fargo and going to NDSU, I imagine you can’t help but be football fans?
LUKE: “Oh yeah, I'm really a big football fan. These guys have a dominant program up here and it's fun to watch these guys put the hammer down on other football teams.”
MTN SPORTS: Taking a look at your schedule, I see duals with Purdue, Iowa State, Wyoming. All those teams have some Montana guys on the roster. What’s that like seeing these guys and wrestling with them again?
LUKE: “It's awesome cause I grew up with these guys wrestling in high school and I was on a lot of national teams going down to other tournaments with these guys. So it's cool to always catch up and see these guys compete and at the same level”
MTN SPORTS: How about this program. Had some All-Americans and individual success, but haven’t really cracked into the upper echelon of teams. Is Bison wrestling ready to take a step?
LUKE: “We’re right there. We just got a couple of things a tune up, like today I kinda got tired in that third period and wrestling two matches, they'll get you. Just got to adapt and overcome.”
MTN SPORTS: What’s the biggest transition you had to make at the college level?
LUKE: “I would say the biggest transition for me was just my conditioning. Every guy at this level is tough to take on. In high school I didn't always have the toughest matches. I pinned a lot of people in high school so I didn't have to have great conditioning because I can pin people and just get off the mat right away. And I think that's the biggest thing for me was getting my conditioning down.”
MTN SPORTS: What are your personal goals for this season?
LUKE: “Personal goals? You know, obviously all American. I got some work to do, but we're going to get there.”
SAWYER DEGEN, NDSU REDSHIRT SOPHOMORE (BELGRADE)
MTN SPORTS: Sawyer, how have you enjoyed your three years at NDSU.
SAWYER: “I've absolutely loved it. There's just a great team here, I’ve loved the coaches, awesome environment. I'm just super excited for this season.”
MTN SPORTS: Tell me about your recruitment, how did you end up at NDSU?
SAWYER: “I didn't really have too many Division I offers. I really wanted to be DI and came up here on a visit and I loved it. The team was awesome and just loved it.”
MTN SPORTS: Does this team have high expectations this year?
SAWYER: “Yeah, we're always looking to grow and to get better. We got really good recruits in and some really good commits already and it's looking really good.”
MTN SPORTS: You’re one of three Montana kids on the roster along with the Webers. Do you guys kind of stick together a little bit here sometimes?
SAWYER: “I loved it when Luke came and then I heard Michael was coming as a little brother. I’m trying to get some more Belgrade or some more Montana kids that come up and take visits and get 'em in the program.”
MTN SPORTS: You guys will see a lot of other Montanans this season with your dual and tournament schedule. What’s it like to see all these guys you grew up around at top programs?
SAWYER: “I love it because especially being from Montana, just you're close with every wrestler all throughout the state. So like Purdue has Bjorn Schroder and Parker Filius. I just like seeing them and getting to say hi and have a conversation. Obviously my brother (Jarrett Degen) is at Iowa State. So that's always really cool when we get to wrestle them.”
MTN SPORTS: If I recall there was some gamesmanship last year on social media, talking about you two moving weight classes to wrestle your brother in a dual. Doubt it was serious, but could that ever happen?
SAWYER: They always joke about it, but he's quite a bit bigger than me. Like I'm a super light 141 and he is a 149 so I might even go down into 133 this year.
MTN SPORTS: Do you and Jarrett keep in constant contact throughout the season?
SAWYER: Yeah, he called me just today before my scrimmage and told me good luck. I’ll call him later to tell him how it goes. We talk mostly wrestling, family stuff sometimes a school a little bit
MTN SPORTS: Outside of wrestling. What do you like to do Sawyer?
SAWYER: “I like lots of stuff. I love being outdoors and hiking and climbing skin and the winters and snowboarding. Snowmobiling, just outdoors. Love it.”
MICHAEL WEBER, NDSU FRESHMAN (FORSYTH)
MTN SPORTS: After the first two months of practice, what’s the biggest change you’ve noticed.
MICHAEL: “The workouts are a lot harder. And coming in as a freshman you kind of go from being the top dog back to the bottom of the totem pole again. So that's a little bit of a culture shock. But other than that, I mean, it's good. It's good. You get to work with a lot of people that know a lot of stuff. So I like it up here. It's definitely my home away from home. Dorm life is good. Everything is good. Practices are tough again, but it's super rewarding. So it makes for some interesting days.”
MTN SPORTS: How is it wrestling with your brother again?
MICHAEL: “Luke was a senior in high school when I was a freshman, so I didn't really get to wrestle with him too much besides that one year. You always have that sibling rivalry going on and it still carries over a little bit some days. Some days are better than others, but he's got that older brother thing down.”
MTN SPORTS: Has the dynamic of the family changed at all now that no one's in high school, your dad’s not coaching and you're all kind of doing your own thing?
MICHAEL: “No, the dynamic doesn't change at all. As you can see, my dad and my other brother Nathan drove up to watch and it's like we never even left. The jokes and all the talking, the matches, it feels like I've never left really.”
MTN SPORTS: Luke was saying that it doesn't matter where you are, or how far away he is from the mat, you can always kind of hear your dad's voice.
MICHAEL: “You kind of just always hear it during practice, even when you're just kind of laying in bed, it's like I just can't get away from him. But it's good though. Kind of little voice in the back of your head just reminds you a little bit of home and how you got here and why you're here.”
MTN SPORTS: What do you get up to in Fargo away from wrestling?
MICHAEL: “Honestly I just study. That's all I got. That's all I have time to do. I'm not gonna lie. College is tough. Both in the classroom and on the mat. But other than that I like to go to the football games I mean it helps when your team is, what, five time national champion or something like that. So those games are very exciting for the first half. Cause after that it's just like, ‘Oh, we're kicking their butt’.”
MTN SPORTS: You’re not in Montana, but you’ll still see a lot of Montana wrestlers this year on other top college teams. Are you excited to see those guys and compete with them again?
MICHAEL: “It's interesting again, and it's also kind of cool. Just shows you that the kids that have been successful at Montana, have also been successful on other levels. When you see them, it's like they never really left. You can pick up all conversations. The friendships never die. Probably like you see them, it's like, Hey, after this, let's go out and eat dinner. It's wild to think that my friends that have been top tier athletes in Montana are now at top tier colleges. It just goes to show you that iron sharpens iron.”
MTN SPORTS: You guys ever try to recruit some other Montana kids to come up here?
MICHAEL: “I'm a little biased. Just gotta get 'em up here for visits and at the end of the day, it's ‘do you like the campus? Do you like the team you're a part of?’ and just try to make it a home for everybody here and push them to the next level.
MTN SPORTS: Michael, what are you studying?
MICHAEL: “I am majoring in exercise science right now. My plan with that is hopefully granted I passed all my classes with pretty good grades. Is hopefully go to med school and see where it goes from there. But I want to be an orthopedic surgeon. It just really interests me. Last December I got to shadow Mr. Klepps over in Billings. So I got to see all of the process with the patients and see the surgeries. It was just a really neat experience and just made me want to double down and be one.
MTN SPORTS: I'm sure you guys get this from time to time toohow are the Weber brothers similar? How are they different?
MICHAEL: “We’re similar in that we’re all stubborn as they come, if we don't want to do anything, we're not gonna do it. But at the same time, if I want you to do it, I'm going to make you do it. There's that huge clash. An unrelenting force and an immovable object. That's literally it. That's literally the family dynamic. And then the old man just comes in and just throws that all away. Cause he just gets his way no matter what. He’s both an unstoppable force and immovable object.”