LAUREL — For Jarrett Degen, Thursday afternoon at the Laurel High School Depot was something of a flashback to his days as a youth wrestler.
Growing up in Belgrade, Degen remembers admiring Bozeman native Tyrel Todd, a three-time All-American at Michigan from 2007-09. Degen — who became an All-American for Iowa State at this year’s NCAA Championships with a seventh-place finish at 149 pounds — recalled how Todd and some of his Michigan teammates signed a T-shirt for him at a camp in Bozeman.
“When I was growing up Tyrel Todd, I looked up to him,” Degen said during lunch break at the Locomotive Wrestling Camp of Champs. “They wrestled at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse and I went and watched him wrestle. That’s one reason I give back to kids, I grew up looking up to Tyrel Todd. I grew up looking up to college wrestlers and dreaming I’d be there.”
Overall, 35 wrestlers who will be in grades 5-12 next fall were in attendance, learning from the two-time NCAA Championships qualifier. On Wednesday, an Iowa State teammate, redshirt freshman Charlie Klepps of Billings, was a clinician.
Laurel High School coach Ted Hill said both were “good teachers” for the youngsters. Some outstanding wrestlers do not make good instructors, Hill explained, but that definitely was not the case for Degen and Klepps.
“If you are a young wrestler, these guys are like movie stars,” Hill said, motioning to Degen, “and that keeps these guys motivated.”
This past season, Hill’s high school team at Laurel watched some of Degen’s Iowa State matches over the internet.
“If we can emulate what they do, it makes us better,” he said.
Degen is between summer training phases and will report back to Ames on July 5. While in Montana, he also was a clinician at the Zadick Brothers Camp in Great Falls and at a clinic in Butte last week. Degen and Klepps will also be back later this summer to work a camp in Glasgow.
“I love coming back to Montana and giving back,” Degen said. “My dad (Terry) always talks about giving back to where you come from, saying, ‘When you were that small, you were looking up to kids wrestling in college.’ ”
This past year, Degen was seeded eighth at 149 pounds at the national tourney and posted a 4-2 mark at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh en route to finishing seventh. Degen would conclude his redshirt sophomore season 29-8.
The previous year, the four-time State A wrestling champion for Belgrade High was 3-2 at the NCAA Championships and finished the season 23-11 at 149 pounds.
“My redshirt freshman year I made it to nationals and lost in the blood round,” Degen said. “Ever since then, I knew I belonged at the D-I level and could achieve my goal of becoming an All-American.
“I spent the next summer and season training hard and I had my goal in mind and wanted to be an All-American.”
As Degen enters his redshirt junior year, he hopes to take the next step at 149 pounds.
“It was a special feeling for sure,” Degen said of rallying from a 6-2 deficit and scoring the eventual winning points in the last 22 seconds for an 11-9 victory in the seventh-place match. “Being an All-American wasn’t my entire goal. I wanted to place higher. I’m happy with it, but not satisfied. If I work harder, I can climb the podium next year and the year after.”
Another special moment for Degen occurred at the Big 12 Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Degen’s brother, Sawyer (141) of North Dakota State, also competed.
“You know he looks up to you as an older brother and you see him wrestling at the Big 12 tournament and it’s an awesome feeling,” Degen said. “My grandma, my dad and my mom, my uncle, aunt and cousin were down there. My brother, Richie, was down there, too.”
As for next season, Degen said he knows he can’t rest on his laurels. Wrestlers will change weight classes and new competitors could emerge. Others will also be working hard in the offseason.
“For next season, I want to work on the small things and get the basics down,” he said. “It doesn’t mean anything, just because you were an All-American it doesn’t mean you’ll get a spot on the podium.”
Now 21, Degen is the one signing autographs on young wrestlers’ shoes, shirts and backpacks.
“It amazes me these kids want my autograph,” he said. “I’m a kid from Belgrade. But for these kids, this is pretty awesome.”
With two more years left in his collegiate career, Degen will undoubtedly have more success along the way.
And in a reversal of roles from his youth, Degen will have to remember to pack a pen in his wrestling gear bag when he returns to the Treasure State to work camps again.