Earlier today, USA Wrestling announced that they have chosen Nate Engel as their 2019 Greco-Roman Coach of the Year due primarily to his work at the helm of the Junior World Team that walked away with three medals last summer in Estonia.
It has been a rapid ascension for Engel, who capped his competitive career in 2014. Shortly thereafter, he accepted his first coaching job, an assistant role with Air Force. Next came an opportunity to join the staff on the Cadet World Team; then he moved out east to Annapolis to work under Joel Sharratt at the US Naval Academy; two years ago, Engel returned to his home state in advance of accepting an assistant coaching position with Stanford University, where he was instrumental in the formation of the California Regional Training Center.
But it is Engel’s time as the coach of the USA Greco-Roman Juniors, first in ’18 and then again last year, that has raised his coaching profile even more.
Typically, the volunteer coaches who receive age-group World Team assignments do not enjoy a great deal of athlete access. Wrestlers are often grouped together for one (or two) training camps during the summer prior to traveling abroad for the World Championships. In his time with the Juniors, Engel raised the bar by formulating overseas opportunities leading up to these training camps, and also by fostering open lines of communication with Junior World Team members as well as their personal coaches at home. Emails, calls, text threads…anything to keep all involved on the same page.
Success has naturally followed. In ’18, Andrew Berreyesa (77 kg, NYAC/FLWC) engineered a memorable run to the Junior World final while Cohlton Schultz (130 kg, Sunkist) placed third. This past August ushered in a historic Junior performance. Schultz wound up with silver, and both Alston Nutter (67 kg, Sunkist/NTS) and Peyton Omania (67 kg, MSU/CYC) earned bronze. All four wrestlers are Greco lifers and top-tier talents from top-tier training environments; even still, Engel’s fingerprints were evident in the athletes’ preparation and confidence.
When reached for comment this evening, Engel was humbled by the recognition bestowed upon him by the national governing body.
5PM: I remember when you first started coaching after you stepped away from competition. Fast forward, and you coached at one D1 school, now you’re at another, plus you have coached a few age group World Teams. It’s only been five-plus years. Are you surprised you’ve accomplished this much this quickly?
Nate Engel: Of course it’s a surprise, but growing up I learned from my dad, who was a life insurance salesman. He was a #1 salesman and a hustler. I also surrounded myself by successful people and like-minded people, to be able to learn from the best, both coaches and athletes. I immersed myself in the coaching world and wanted to learn everything I could. I knew I was a go-getter and driven because nothing in life comes easy — but through hard work, anything in life is achievable.
5PM: One of the things you are being recognized for is the extra work you’ve done with the Juniors, such as traveling and communication concerns. Where or how did you come up with these added focuses for preparing the Juniors?
Engel: I looked back at the first World Team I coached in 2015 with the Cadets and realized that we need to put more time in ahead of going to the World Championships. One thing is that when it comes to a Team, having open dialogue and communication with each athlete and their personal coaches, as well as the National Team staff, is really important. I also looked at the way I treat the athletes who I coach day-in and day-out at the college level, and just want to replicate that with the athletes who make the World Team. If you show the athlete how much time and effort you’re putting into them, they will lay it on the line when they go out there to wrestle.
5PM: What is, especially right now given all the chaos and questions surrounding the sport, the most satisfying thing to you about being named Coach of the Year?
Engel: You’re right, it really is a crazy time and I do truly appreciate the recognition I have received due to the time I’ve put into the Greco-Roman program. It didn’t just start this year, it started many years ago when I was an athlete and being on different parts of the Greco-Roman board, and being part of USA Wrestling. That has truly shaped me into the coach I am. And also, learning from many great people along the way. I’m just excited for the future of Greco-Roman wrestling and wrestling in general. I think we are moving in the right direction. Thank you to all the athletes I’ve been able to help along the way. I’m just looking forward to helping more athletes achieve their dreams and goals.
USA Seniors Adjusting to a Different Plan
The Olympic Trials being postponed resulted in a domino effect of chaos around the American wrestling world. Not only was the lustrum‘s most important tournament put on ice (for a year, presumably), but periodization concerns and training schedules likewise went up in flames.
Three Greco athletes who were preparing to make big moves in April intimate below how they have made sense of the entire situation. Michael Hooker (67 kg, Army/WCAP), Austin Morrow (67 kg, NYAC/NTS), and multi-time National Teamer Lucas Sheridan (97 kg, Army/WCAP) were in the midst of the final push to Trials when the news dropped that a prolonged waiting game was about to commence. For Morrow, who was gearing up for the Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier at the end of March, the process has been especially confounding. But as has been the case with other adversities that have crossed his path in recent years, he is trying to make the most of it.
5PM: How startled were you by how fast everything developed with the Trials and everything else being postponed?
Morrow: I was definitely surprised at how fast everything developed and how quickly life got put on hold. I mean, I’ve never experienced something like this ever in my lifetime, so I couldn’t help but feel shocked I suppose!
Hooker: I was very surprised about how everything changed so quickly. One day I’m getting ready for the Olympic Trials, the next I’m sitting in my room for eight hours a day trying not to go crazy.
Sheridan: I’m not sure “startled” is the right word, but I definitely went through a variety of emotions. Initially, I was frustrated because I felt ready to go, then I was surprised at how far this was reaching with all the unemployment. But now I’m excited for what this extra year will do for me. As a soldier-athlete in the United States Army, we are taught to be resilient, and the decisions about the Olympics were made way above my head. All I know and can count on is that the sun is going to rise tomorrow.
5PM: How quickly did you confer with your coaches, or just privately, figure out how to train without being in the room?
Morrow: Andy (Bisek) reached out to us on our team group chat as soon as he was getting information from Northern (Michigan University) about what could or couldn’t happen in the wrestling room. It’s really tough to set up workout schedules and lifting plans when we don’t know how far we are out from competition, and don’t know when this whole thing will end. But he has done a tremendous job keeping in touch with all of us. We’ve pretty much all just been making the best out of our current situation. Me and my roommates, Colin Schubert and Khymba Johnson, all do P90X to stay in shape (laughs). It’s actually a little tougher than I thought it would be.
Hooker: The Army coaches were quick with a plan. They make sure to always keep us in the loop about the best way to train during these uncertain times. They schedule meetings with the whole team via Zoom to make sure we’re doing the workouts they send us, and also to check in to make sure we’re doing well as individuals.
Sheridan: Spenser (Mango) and I talk almost daily, but just about life and my well-being. As far as how to train? That’s on me. At this point in my career, if I’m not able to train on my own, push myself on my own, and do the right thing when my coaches aren’t around, then I’m in the wrong business.
5PM: Is there anything you’ve learned from this current situation that you did not expect?
Morrow: I’d say a few things have become apparent to me in light of the current situation. The first thing is a huge cliché, but I think everyone who has a passion and cannot pursue their passion right now would agree to not take the things you love for granted. Whether that be sports, hobbies, people, whatever. I don’t care, you won’t always have it, so you better make damn sure you’re all in and loving it with your whole heart or don’t waste your time.
The other thing is that even in times of doubt or times of trouble, your mindset is so important for happiness and success. How you approach a situation will often affect your whole day. If I wake up and bitch about how bad this whole quarantine is, or about I’m unhappy because blah, blah, blah, I’m going to have a terrible day. However, if I wake up and I say, Today is a day where I get to better myself, spend more time on a hobby that makes me happy, strengthen my relationships with my family, girlfriend, whoever, I’m going to have a good day. Maybe I’m an optimist, but the hardest day to me is always yesterday. I don’t have any time to stress about things that are beyond my control.
Hooker: I learned how thankful I am to wrestle because that can change in the blink of an eye as we have seen. I have learned how thankful I am to wrestle for the Army because we’re still being taken care of as Army wrestlers. It has never been a better time to be an Army wrestler.
Sheridan: It’s not so much what I’ve learned since everything hit the fan, it’s more about what I’m going to learn now that I’ve been gifted another year. (Dremiel) Byers and I were on the phone the other morning talking about how excited we are to have another year to get better, to get stronger, and to get meaner. Every day is a box, I’m the only one who can decide if that box is a coffin, or a present.