A Wrestler Made, Not Born
From not-good-enough to champion to never-gonna-make-it to All-American, the only thing Scott Schiller has always been is hard working
By Jake Ricker
When boiled down to its most basic, hearing the story of Scott Schiller is hearing the story of many young men who grow up wrestling in one of the sport’s strongholds. It’s in Schiller’s dedication to wrestling and hard work, which are sustained on a seemingly endless supply of competitive desire, where his story splits from the others and becomes something extraordinary.
Schiller’s shared roots with so many amateur wrestlers starts in his family tree. Schiller’s grandfather wrestled growing up in St. James, Minn. His grandfather introduced his sons, Schiller’s uncles and father, to wrestling when they were young and they grew up on mats. Around the time Schiller started school, his father approached him with the same question he had been asked years earlier.
“My dad just asked me, `Do you want to wrestle?’” remembered Schiller. “I said, `Yeah, sure.’” And with that innocuous shrug-and-nod response, Schiller was a wrestler by name. He would learn soon that it was easy to be called a wrestler, but harder to be one.
When he began wrestling he “didn’t know anything about it. I remember [my dad and I] spent about 30 minutes in the living room. He showed me some stuff and we went straight to a tournament. I didn’t have any practices.”
His first match was in the North Dakota State University wrestling room at an event called the Prairie Rose State Games.
“I got headlocked and pinned in like 20 seconds,” Schiller recalled, smiling. “That’s how I started my wrestling career. I have been hooked ever since.”
Schiller played a variety of sports in the next few years, but focused more on wrestling as he reached middle school. One of the truest indication that wrestling was Schiller’s true love was his dedication to the sport despite his early results.
“My seventh grade year I wrestled on JV and I wasn’t very good. Then, I went 2-11 [wrestling varsity] as an eighth-grader,” Schiller said. “It drove me nuts. If somebody [beats me], I’m not going to stop until I finally beat them. I struggled right away in high school … [but] I wrestled as much as I could after that.”
This is where Schiller began traveling a path less-softened by the footsteps of thousands of wrestlers before him. While others worked in practice then hung out with their friends at the movie theater or mall, Schiller began to frequent wrestling rooms of college programs near his hometown of West Fargo, N.D., including North Dakota State, Concordia and Moorhead State.
“I would be the kid that stood in the corner that nobody wanted to wrestle because I was an eighth-grader. I would ride my bike to the practices, so they knew this kid shouldn’t be there,” Schiller said, chuckling as he recalled being an oddity in the corner of those rooms more than a decade ago. “I’d wait until somebody got a bloody nose, then I would run over there and start wrestling with [that guy’s partner].
“I got crushed. I was just so young. I was wrestling guys that were 23. They were full-grown men and I was 14.”
Rather than being deterred by the ease with which his dramatically larger training partners dispatched him, Schiller was compelled to return. He began showing up more often, jumping into as many drills and live-goes as possible.
“Once they noticed [I kept] showing up, they realized I wanted to be there and wanted to learn. They’d still beat me up pretty good, but afterwards they would show me one thing or another. Eventually I learned 100 different things.”
Schiller believes working almost daily against vastly more experienced wrestlers “made a big difference” in his own abilities, but big seems to be an understatement when looking at the results. After winning just two matches in his first year on the West Fargo team, Schiller returned as a freshman and took fifth in the state tournament. He followed that performance with three consecutive state titles to finish out his high school career.
His need to supersede the competition followed him to Dinkytown, where he quickly discovered that everything he had worked so hard to build in high school meant only that he’d done enough to step into the University of Minnesota wrestling room, not that he’d succeed.
“I got to college and I got beat down again,” Schiller said. “My first and second year I had an All-American in front of me.” Schiller pegged himself and his own achievements against those of that three-time All-American, Sonny Yohn. “Now we’re friends, but every practice he would do something and I would do more. He would do an extra 10 sprints. I would do 12. Whatever it was … it drove me nuts if he was better than me in something. Plus, it feels good working hard.”
That last tiny sentence, a brief aside at the end of a statement, provides insight into why he’s been able to repeatedly build himself up and become a dominant performer compared to his peers.
Since earning the starting position as a redshirt sophomore, when Yohn graduated and vacated his spot in the Gopher starting lineup, Schiller has morphed from someone who is constantly learning to someone who is not only learning, but teaching. His credentials make him fitting for that role. He has been an All-American in both his season as the team’s full-time starter at 197 (with a chance to match Yohn’s three honors this season) and his career winning percentage of .855 is among the 12 best in the program’s record books.
In his time at Minnesota, Schiller has become someone who younger wrestlers in the room admire, an unlikely role-reversal from where he began.
To this day, Schiller recalls a conversation after his first All-American season at Minnesota. “Some guy said `To tell you the truth, I was wondering why you ever went to Minnesota. You were never going to make it.’”
Proving something to those who feel that way about him is exactly why Schiller has made it.
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