Staff Sgt. Scott Kwiatkowski is a wrestler on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln wrestling team, but since he became a walk-on in August 2009, he hasn’t stepped on the mat once. But, his coaches and teammates are, as one coach said it, “damn glad to have him.”
He is no Craig Bester or Jordan Borroughs, who are top-ranked wrestlers in the country, but he is someone who his teammates and even his coaches look up to.
Kwiatkowski attends the university through the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program, commonly referred as MECEP, majoring in business administration. His ultimate goal is to become an infantry officer.
The Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program is for qualified Marines who want to become officers by attending Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC)-host universities of their choice as full-time students, while on active-duty status.
From 2002 to 2009, Kwiatkowski spent his time as an infantryman with 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, serving in various billets while twice deploying to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He thought about getting out, but it was after his second deployment he decided to stay in.
He was accepted into MECEP, completed the program’s preparatory course in San Diego, Calif., and then moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he and his wife, Allison and their 10-month-old daughter, Keeley, currently reside.
“After my second deployment, I realized that I loved what I was doing. I wanted to stay in, but go the officer route,” he said. “Once my MECEP package was approved, I applied and was accepted to the University of Nebraska.”
Once the life-long Nebraska Cornhusker fan arrived in Lincoln, he tried out for the team and accomplished a life-long dream – making the cut to wrestle for the University of Nebraska.
“I grew up watching Cornhusker wrestling,” the former 1999 Nebraska High School Athletic Association Class A wrestling runner up said. “Back in high school, I didn’t get any wrestling scholarships, so I accomplished one of my goals by becoming a Marine and then another by becoming a member of the University of Nebraska wrestling team.”
According to Kwiatkowski, with his already demanding schedule, he couldn’t have done all he has accomplished in his life thus far if it weren’t for those around him who he has garnered much support from.
“I knew what I was getting myself into – full-time college student, husband and father, obligations to NROTC and wrestling,” he said. “For me to add another responsibility – wrestling – which is very demanding by itself, I knew this was my only chance to accomplish one of my goals in life. I had to get the unanimous support of the university’s NROTC commanding officer, the wrestling coach and most importantly, my wife. I have a lot to be thankful for. I am definitely a lucky man.”
Though the Kearney, Neb., native is not on the varsity team, his coaches said he brings what all coaches want – maturity.
“We, as coaches, try to bring adversity for these guys,” Tony Ersland, an assistant coach, said. “Think about it, he’s been in the Marines for seven years, been deployed to combat twice, has a wife and daughter, a full-time student, has obligations to the NROTC department, about to become an officer in the Corps and he spends a lot of his time that he could be spending with his family, with us, even though he’s not on the varsity team. This man truly exemplifies what adversity is all about.”
During the wrestling season, Kwiatkowski spent his time wrestling against the varsity squad to toughen them up prior to matches. His head coach, Mark Manning, said though he didn’t make the varsity team, he’s definitely making the varsity squad stronger – physically, mentally and for life outside of wrestling.
“We wrestle the most competitive universities out there,” Manning said after his teams’ home match against the University of Missouri. “He’s always fighting for a spot to be on the varsity squad. In doing so he’s making our guys tougher, making them realize their mistakes, which in return makes them better wrestlers. One thing that most of our guys take away from him is that he’s a man and he’s been around a lot for someone his age, so they have no excuses. They don’t complain, they’re always on time and they always work harder around him. He is an example for what it takes to be a successful person outside the wrestling room.”
Bester, who was nationally ranked in the top ten, mirrored what his coaches said about Kwiatkowski.
“He’s a quiet, humble guy,” Bester said. “He was without a doubt, the hardest working wrestler on the mat. He always had a positive outlook on everything. Every time a wrestler came to practice late, the coaches would make them pay the price and Kwiatkowski was right there ‘paying the price’ with them even though he knew he didn’t have to. He’s definitely a guy that leads by example. We need more of Scott Kwiatkowski’s in this world, that’s for sure.”
Though Kwiatkowski is in his final year at the university with one year of eligibility left to wrestle, he will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree, a commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps and knowing he was able to live the dream – being a Marine, receiving an education and wrestling for the University of Nebraska.
Since the interview, he was named on the Big 12’s commissioner honor roll for the fall of 2009 and spring of 2010 for student athlete academic excellence.