35-year-old ex-Green Beret takes the mat for ASU

Roman Rozell (Photo/Arizona State University)

Roman Rozell marked his 35th birthday by doing what he loves ... while possibly making some history: He wrestled his first match for Arizona State as a walk-on member of the Sun Devils.

Rozell, a married father of six and former Army combat veteran and Green Beret, earned a standing ovation when he stepped out onto the mat in dual meet between ASU and Augustana of South Dakota Friday night at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe.

"In a meaningful moment for the program following Veterans Day this Monday, former Green Beret and 35-year-old walk-on Roman Rozell made his debut for the Sun Devils, earning an ovation from the crowd of 1,090," reported the official Sun Devils wrestling website.

Rozell was pinned by Augustana sophomore Dan Bishop in the first minute of their 197-pound match. (Arizona State, ranked No. 6 in the nation by InterMat, won the dual, defeating the visiting Vikings, 35-6.)

According to a 600-word profile by Greg Moore of the Arizona Republic, Rozell may have indeed made history as the oldest NCAA Division I wrestler to take to the mat.

"The NCAA doesn't keep track of age, but the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum couldn't find record of an older Division-I wrestler in its archives," Moore wrote.

"Typically, the NCAA caps eligibility at 25 years old, but that doesn't apply for people who join the military straight out of high school."

Last week, Arizona State head coach Zeke Jones told Rozell he would be wrestling for the Sun Devils in the first home match of the season.

"(Assistant coach) Chris Pendleton came to me and said, 'What do you think about putting Roman in the lineup?' And I said, 'You know, I was thinking the exact same thing.' ... I'm excited about it," Jones shared with the Arizona Republic's Moore.

Roman Rozell
The eldest member of the Sun Devil wrestling team has overcome a ton of challenges in his life. Here's how Marshall Terrill opened his profile of Roman Rozell posted earlier this month for ASU Now, an official website for Arizona State University:

"In his 34 years, Arizona State University student veteran Roman Rozell has survived his parents' divorce, addiction, six combat concussions and being struck by lightning.

"Amidst these slings and arrows, Rozell has managed to write a book, obtain an associate degree (he's working on his undergraduate) and kickstart a motivational speaking career all while getting married and fathering six children. Oh, and he also finds time in his busy schedule to wrestle for the university -- as the oldest walk-on in school history ..."

"Rozell decided that after 14 years in the Army, it was time to do something else. That road led him back to ASU in 2018, where he put his GI Bill to use and initially pursued a teaching degree, but switched to sociology and hopes one day to become a mental health counselor.

"Before he finished his active duty, Rozell started coaching high school wrestling and his passion for the sport was ignited again. He also began training and getting into shape. At 33, he rekindled his dream of wrestling on the collegiate level.

"But that was easier said than done. He had to wait about four months to discover if he still had any eligibility left. Usually 25 is the maximum age to compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. However, exceptions are made for members of the military and Latter-day Saints.

Because Rozell was in the military for 14 years, he is considered a sophomore in terms of eligibility.

"'I eventually discovered I'm the oldest Division 1 wrestler in the country, but I'm 19 on paper,' Rozell said. 'Wow!'"

In the past, InterMat has shared the stories of at least two other college wrestlers who returned to the mat a few years older than their teammates ... or opponents.

In February 2010, we profiled Justin Decker, who resumed his wrestling career at age 33 as a 157-pounder for Upper Iowa University, an NCAA Division II program ... all while running a dairy farm and raising a family.

Then, six years ago, InterMat wrote about "senior wrestler" Rick Chipman, who, at age 44, was about to launch his senior year as a student and wrestler at University of Southern Maine, an NCAA Division III school ... along with being a full-time firefighter and family man.

In the past, it wasn't uncommon for individuals who had served in the military for a number of years after high school to enter college after completing their service. Among those who became NCAA champs well into their 20s: University of Oklahoma's Dan Hodge (who was a married 25-year-old father as a Sooner senior in 1957) ... Oklahoma State's Dick Hutton (after returning from World War II, a three-time NCAA heavyweight champ for the Cowboys, 1947-48, and 1950) ... and Phil Kinyon, dubbed "the ancient Marine" who wrestled freestyle for the military for a number of years before enrolling at Oklahoma State, winning the 157-pound crown at the 1961 NCAAs.

Wrestling is often labeled "oldest and greatest sport." Perhaps one reason: it offers opportunities for athletes of just about any age. Including Roman Rozell.

Want to read additional inspiring stories?

  • Earlier this year, InterMat profiled a blind wrestler who won an Alabama state title ... and a six-year-old boy in Illinois who was succeeding at wrestling despite being born without feet or a left hand.
  • In 2011, InterMat wrote a feature titled "Opportunity for All", providing profiles of wrestlers such as Anthony Robles, Rulon Gardner, Matt Hamill, Les Anderson and Nick Ackerman who overcame considerable obstacles to become champions in the sport.
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