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Western Dubuque’s Sawyer Nauman wins a match over Johnston’s Tanner Rowland at the 2020 Class 3A State Wrestling Tournament in Des Moines.

It’s been a solid early season on the wrestling mat for Western Dubuque’s Sawyer Nauman, who is thankful for the opportunity to compete during his senior year with the Bobcats after suffering a serious facial injury midway through the 2020 football campaign.

After finishing seventh at 195 pounds in the Class 3A State Tournament last year, Nauman sits at 13-1 after a 12-4 major decision over Dubuque Hempstead’s JoJo Lewis, Jan. 2.

“The injury was horrible for the football team and horrible to him, but he’s bounced back. When he found out about the extent of the injury, he was able to put things in perspective and move on,” said Western Dubuque wrestling coach Paul Cleary. “He appreciates wrestling so much. It’s fun for him. He’s a great leader, and he’s performing at a very high level.”

That high-level wrestling has led to Nauman being No. 6 in The Predicament’s Class 3A 195-pound rankings, Dec. 17.

“The injury was a freak deal. I broke my nose and some facial bones that required surgery,” Nauman said. “It’s been tough, but there are a lot of things that are worse for many people. I’m just thankful to have the opportunity to wrestle and be with my teammates.”

Nauman’s football season ended in week four at Waverly-Shell Rock, and cut short a promising campaign for the leader of the Bobcat defense. In only four games, Nauman was second on the team with 31.5 tackles, and was named to the Class 3A District 3 All-District First Team as a linebacker.

“Sawyer was terrific. When you look at the beginning of our season we put people on notice when we beat Hempstead,” said Western Dubuque football coach Justin Penner. “He made us go defensively. He was huge for us in a leadership role. He was doing everything for us and then he got hurt.”

With the football season over, Nauman focused on getting healthy and finding his way back to the mat. Penner had no doubt that was going to happen.

“His maturity and his work ethic are fantastic. The extra effort it takes with his growth mindset made all the difference,” Penner said. “He puts in the work and he puts in the time. He has a really big desire to learn and wants to get better on a daily basis. That kind of behavior is contagious.”

Nauman did plenty of wrestling in his early years, but had not been part of Cleary’s Western Dubuque program until his junior year.

“Sawyer was an elite level junior wrestler, but took from fifth grade to last year off and didn’t wrestle,” said Cleary. “Last year I wasn’t even sure he was going to make the lineup. He had to beat some good guys to be in the lineup.”

“He’s been extremely competitive in baseball and football, and now he’s found his love of wrestling again. He trains really hard,” Cleary said. “Right now, I think wrestling is his favorite sport, but that’s probably because I’m the wrestling coach.”

One of Nauman’s biggest contributions to the program is his leadership.

“You don’t have to worry about Sawyer. He leads warmups every day and you don’t have to worry about him getting in trouble,” Cleary said. “He’s a dream senior leader and a kid I feel blessed to coach.”

Nauman is focused on getting to the podium again in Des Moines, but after a fall filled with difficulties, he’s just happy to be back on the mat.

“I’m trying to have fun and enjoy wrestling,” he said. “I’m not thinking about being a state champion, or anything like that right now, but I’d like to get back down to the state meet and place again.”