Oct. 20, 2000
University of Illinois wrestler Nate Patrick ranks 22nd all-time on the Fighting Illini's career wins list and has 12 pins which rank ninth on the Illini's falls chart. These numbers have come in only two complete seasons of competition as the Illini senior missed the entire 1997-98 season due to an injury. Patrick has faced adversity and these numbers do not show what he has gone through on and off the wrestling mat.
When Patrick was in eighth grade, his father passed away. His passing made a large impact on him and his family.
"Our family was close to begin with, but his passing made my family much closer," Patrick says. "My mom wanted a fresh start, so she moved the family from Washington to Naperville, Ill."
The adjustment to living in a new part of the country did not compare to the adjustment of roles in the family.
"My brother took over the fatherly role a little bit. He sacrificed a lot to help my sister and I and he also took time to help me train," says Patrick.
In high school at Naperville North, Patrick was a soccer player as well as wrestler. The choice, although not easy, was one with the future in mind. Patrick knew he was going to wrestle in college so he stopped playing soccer in order to focus solely on wrestling. In high school, Patrick was a four-time state qualifier, including winning the 1996 171-pound Class AA state title in Illinois. He compiled a career record of 132-19 over his four-year high school career.
After his successful high school career Patrick chose to attend the University of Illinois. He redshirted his freshman year and learned from veteran Illini wrestlers on the 1997 squad.
"It gave me a chance to sit back and make the adjustment from high school. I learned a lot from the older guys," says Patrick. "I used to sit with guys like Ernest Benion and Steve Marianetti and pick their brains to learn as much as I could."
Patrick planned on using the knowledge he learned from the veteran wrestlers and apply it to his first year of wrestling in 1998. His hope of wrestling came to a halt when he tore his ACL in his knee during preseason workouts, prematurely ending his season.
"It was definitely a tough blow. It did allow me to sit back and evaluate things," Patrick says. "My faith increased a lot. Coming back was tough because my mind said one thing and my body said another. I wanted to come back late in the season but I just wasn't ready."
After an offseason of rehabilitation, Patrick earned a spot in the starting lineup for the 1998-99 wrestling season. He was the Illini's regular starter at 184 pounds, posting a 29-13 record and earning a wild-card selection into the NCAAs. Still, Patrick was not satisfied with his consistency. He hit the proverbial wall halfway through the season and struggled in his Big Ten tournament debut, going 1-3. The experience he gained as a starter would pay off in his junior season.
In 1999-2000, Patrick had a 34-5 record with nine falls. The 34 wins rank sixth all-time on the Illini's single season wins list and the nine falls also rank sixth on the UI's single season falls chart. The strong record suggested a long run in the NCAAs, but Patrick was upset in the tournament and that did not sit well with him.
"The ending was rough," Patrick says. It was not what I wanted. It did strengthen my relationship with God and my family though."
Patrick's family is very tight-knit, especially after the passing of his father. His sister, Rebecca, and brother, Jason, both live in Champaign. Rebecca is a junior and on the soccer team and Jason is a strength coach for the University, primarily for wrestling. Patrick's mother recently moved from the suburbs of Chicago to be with her children in Champaign.
"I think it's a great opportunity for him and his family to be together again," says head coach Mark Johnson. "Nate's mother is a wonderful lady and very close to the family. All three children are quality people."
Patrick was recently chosen to be a co-captain on the 2000-01 Illini wrestling team because of the attributes he brings to the team.
"I think he's a great person and has a terrific work ethic," says Johnson. "He worked extremely hard over the summer and he is someone we want our athletes emmulate."
There are thoughts of seeking a sixth year of eligiblility from the NCAA due to the injury prior to the 1997-98 season, but Patrick has the mindset that this could be his last season in a Fighting Illini singlet.
"I'm looking at it like it's my last year," Patrick says. "I'm planning on it that way, and the rest is in God's hands."
Johnson thinks Patrick has big plans for this year, whether or not it is his last.
"I'm sure he's got his sights set on real big things this year," says Johnson. "We're telling him this is his last chance right now. Go out with everything you can. He's very capable of being an NCAA champion."