It was in the fall of 2014 when Dalton Roberts (60 kg) showed up on campus at Northern Michigan University in Marquette. A felicitous route. Roberts had solidified his standing as a do-it-all age-grouper who just so happened to prefer Greco-Roman competition and wanted to pursue the style on a full-time basis while attending college. Plus — he’s from Michigan, growing up in the greenstock town known as Fowlerville, where he patrolled the same high school hallways as eventual Senior World Teammate Adam Coon (130 kg, NYAC/Cliff Keen, world #6). Though Marquette resides in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and somewhat detached from the state’s core populous, the situation couldn’t have been any better.
And now, just short of six full flips of the calendar, the feeling is that it couldn’t have gone any better.
Under the tutelage of former head coach Rob Hermann, then-assistant Aghasi Manukyan, and most recently Andy Bisek, Roberts has developed into a top US Senior who is very much expected to threaten for a spot on the ’21 Olympic Team. A lot of it has been the result of tireless devotion. Roberts, 23, is acknowledged around the country for a driven and demanding work ethic, the attribute with which he is most associated. His eagerness to consistently test the boundaries of physical (and emotional) exhaustion have only served to compliment his skills as a competitor.
While at NMU, Roberts represented the US at the World Championships in three age divisions spread across five seasons: Junior (’15, ’16), U23 (’17, ’19), and Senior (’18). The year he made the Senior Team, he also won the US Open. But aside from his individual resume bulletpoints is, was, something equally important to both he and the American program.
Along with Sammy Jones (60 kg, NYAC/NTS), Travis Rice (60 kg, IRTC), Alex Sancho (67 kg, Army/WCAP, world #18), Anthonie Linares (67 kg, NYAC/LOG), and Randon Miranda (60 kg, CYC), Roberts helped bridge the gap between NMU’s uber-successful mid-aughts and the current era of USA Greco-Roman. Together, this group of wrestlers (among others), restored NMU’s standing as a premier breeding ground for dependable Senior talent, particularly in the lighter weight categories. This footnote might not arrive top of mind to those outside of the Greco bubble, but that does little to obscure its importance to the health and future of our sport on these shores.
Alas, it has become time for Roberts to depart for a new opportunity. On Thursday, he was sworn into the Army National Guard and will take his talents to that service branch’s World Class Athletes Program. As was the case with NMU, the fit is a natural one. Roberts, whose MOS will be Motor Transport Operator, is set to assimilate in a training environment at Fort Carson that features most of the nation’s elite lightweight competitors. Dubbed the “Ninja Squad”, its membership currently comprises no less than four Olympic Trials-qualified athletes at 60 kilograms alone — a number that will actually rise soon enough once additional names are officially declared.
There is no other room in the US that is as crammed with legitimate Trials contenders in one weight class. In fact, it’s not even remotely close.
That is one reason why Roberts is coming on-board. Another is that he wants to actually serve his country; and still another, have the chance to gain stability in aspects of his life outside of all the training and competition. He’s not 17 anymore. Working for low pay when not in class and having to crack open soup cans for dinner was cool a couple of years ago. That coolness has worn off. He is ready to earn a living. He is ready to continue his quest for World dominance. Life as a US Greco athlete is not mandated to include mutual exclusivities. It is possible to have it all, and Roberts would like to discover that for himself.
Dalton Roberts — 60 kg, Army/WCAP
5PM: When exactly did this option start becoming serious to consider, and how long ago did you actually make your decision?
Dalton Roberts: It has been a while. I’d say it started last summer. At National Team camp, I had visited with the recruiter and we talked. I had visited Fort Carson. I was kind of feeling it out. I didn’t know what I had really planned on doing. I knew that I wanted to go into the Armed Forces. I didn’t know which branch it would be. I was just feeling it out.
Later on in the year, I took the ASVAB (Armed Services Verbal Aptitude Battery). Now with the whole coronavirus and this world we’re living in today with this big break, I had planned on actually joining last month. But due to some circumstances that was not a feasible option. So I moved back down to Fowlerville with my parents for about two weeks trying to get everything put together, get the ball rolling.
5PM: Everyone knows the strength Army has in the light weight classes. That I am sure is one part to all of this. What are some of the others?
Roberts: The coaching staff is certainly a very big draw. I like working with Spenser (Mango). He has been a great coach and mentor throughout the years. As well as Bruce (Robinson), Shon (Lewis), and the competition in the wrestling room. The training partners, the strength of the team. I like the team mentality they have. It is similar to what we had at NMU. You’re competitors, but you’re also brothers. It is a certain brotherhood that I was drawn towards. Also, I like nature, and it’s nice to be located in the mountains by lakes, rivers. Stuff you can fish. It is all very appealing.
5PM: You are beginning Basic Training on June 15. When that’s finished, it’ll be around October. We don’t yet know exactly what the season will look like by then; plus you will be under the care of the Army coaches. How do you imagine this will play out in terms of getting going again and preparing for Trials?
Roberts: We’re all in the same boat with this long break. I think this push-back on the Olympics gave me enough time to jump right in here to get my basic and job training out of the way, and then hop back onto the mat. I will have a suitable window of about three or four months until the Trials. But I imagine I will get a lot of reading done. And I am definitely not going to let my athletic fitness go down the drain. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a long break from wrestling. But who knows how much longer this will go. It just felt like the right time. I don’t have much else to do. I’m just rolling with it.
5PM: There is not a great deal of distance obviously between your being a student at Northern and now this change in direction. But there is some distance between when you first arrived in Marquette and now. What will you miss the most about being part of that program?
Dalton Roberts: A lot. I went through a lot there. I grew up. I think that part of my life from 2014 to a couple of months ago was when I transitioned from a boy to a man. I made a lot of memories there. It will always have a special place in my heart. And I’m going to visit again soon, visit Austin (Morrow). That was about a five-and-a-half year, six-year stint. A lot of growing went on there. Not that I’m done growing, I am still growing as far as being a wrestler and I want to continue doing that. Going to the Army is the next step.