USA Wrestling NC State’s Max Rohsk...

NC State’s Max Rohskopf used wrestling to turn his life around

By Taylor Miller, USA Wrestling | Oct. 25, 2016, 3:39 p.m. (ET)

 Photo: Austin Bernard,
Confident, rugged, intense, highly motivated. These are some words that Max Rohskopf’s coaches and teammates at North Carolina State use to describe him.

How did he develop this lifestyle of motivation and immense focus?

Rohskopf learned from an early age that not everything in life is handed to you. In fact, sometimes basic needs aren’t always guaranteed.

Rohskopf didn’t grow up in an ideal setting. He was raised by a single mother, who left his father for safety reasons. She took Rohskopf and his two brothers when he was only about 5 years old. The divorce left the family with nothing, not even a place to live.

“My parents got married pretty young, and my dad inherited his family’s farm so the first five years of my life I grew up on a farm. We were doing well. When I was young, he almost killed me and my mom,” Rohskopf said. “After that, there was a period of two or three years where we were just living with various people. My mom didn’t have a job; she was a stay-at-home mom so when my parents got a divorce, we were left with nothing. We were kind of in and out of friends’ houses. We moved in with my grandparents at one point.”

Eventually, the family settled into a trailer in the middle of a cornfield outside of Killbuck, Ohio, where they stayed until Rohskopf left for college.

The situation took its toll on Rohskopf individually. He struggled with disciplinary issues, getting into fights while at school.

One fight in seventh grade landed him in the principal’s office. At the time, the principal was the head coach of the wrestling team and suggested Rohskopf try out the sport.

“I walked in the first day and just fell in love with it even though I was terrible,” he said. “At that point, it was a way for me to physically exert myself without getting into trouble. I was just always an aggressive kid so I took well to wrestling. When I started out, I wasn’t good. There were nine kids in my class that were wrestling, and I was the worst one out of all of them. I remember a couple of club coaches talked to me and preached the same thing that every other coach preached. Basically it was you get out what you put into it. You can take it as far as you want to take it. That has just really stuck with me.”

By the time Rohskopf got to high school, he set a goal to make it to the Ohio state tournament once before he graduated.

He was focused and dedicated to doing whatever it took, including getting a job to afford gas to drive an hour and a half to club practice.

“High school was a struggle for us. Sometimes we didn’t have food,” Rohskopf said. “So everything I did revolved around getting out of that situation. I felt like I had to be successful at wrestling because if not, I would end up staying in the same town and working a factory job for the rest of my life. To me, that wasn’t an option. My back was against the wall. Wrestling was my way out of a bad situation.”

Just months later, he surprised many, qualifying for the state tournament his freshman year. He realized his ceiling for wrestling was a lot higher than he originally thought.

He continued to make leaps in the sport with each passing year, giving him the confidence to set a new goal of wrestling for a Division I program.

“I wanted to wrestle in college. It wasn’t about school,” he said. “All I knew was that I wanted to get out and experience new things. You can only learn so much in a small community, and I knew that. I’m always trying to make myself better, not just in wrestling. Self-development is really important to me. I just had to get outside of my comfort zone and wrestle.”

With Rohskopf being the first to wrestle in his family and the first with college aspirations, he didn’t have much guidance on the next step until club teammate and now Duke wrestler Jacob Kasper and his family stepped in.

They encouraged Rohskopf to take initiative to reach out to colleges and show why he would be a valuable addition to their wrestling programs.

So, he recruited himself to North Carolina State.

“I heard about what was going on at NC State and how Coach (Pat) Popolizio wanted to change the culture. I listened to one of his interviews and after that, I knew that was the guy I wanted to wrestle for,” Rohskopf said. “I emailed the coaching staff and talked myself up and they decided to give me a call and bring me out on a visit. I definitely had to convince them that I was someone they wanted because I didn’t have the grades and I had a lot of disciplinary issues in high school that they were concerned with. I was a good high school wrestler but I wasn’t great, and it was kind of a risk for them. Once they got to know me on my visit, they realized that I’m no games. I was going to go to work and it was going to pay off. That’s the passion that I had for wrestling.”

Since joining the Wolfpack, Rohskopf has continued to grow as a wrestler and a person. He went from a losing record his freshman year to winning the ACC tournament at 165 pounds and earning a top-five ranking last year.

This year, Rohskopf is a senior and plans to wrestle down a weight at 157 pounds. He said the new weight and his style of wrestling will give him an unstoppable advantage over his opponents and provide entertainment for those who watch.

“I’m going to be turning a lot of heads this year,” he said. “It’s not going to be the same way as it has been before, where I win a couple of close matches against some good guys. With the way I wrestle, I’m going to get on top people and just pin them. It’ll be like ‘how did he do that?’ I don’t see why I can’t win the national tournament. This is the best weight for me to compete for an NCAA title. I think my style of wrestling poses a lot of problems for everyone. I think when people see me wrestle, they’ll be entertained.”

After college, he plans to continue his athletic career, pursuing MMA.

Since he started chasing his dreams and making a better life for himself, he has inspired others in his family to do the same.

“Since I moved out, my mom decided herself that she can be successful, too,” Rohskopf said. “She has a pretty good job now and a nice house in a different area of Ohio. She’s doing a lot better now, and I’m so proud of her that she’s not letting what happened to us restrict her.”

His younger brother, Ashton, has even decided to take up wrestling and plans to follow in Rohskopf’s footsteps, wrestling for a Division I program.

Despite all the troubles Rohskopf had to sift through growing up, he remains thankful for the person it has made him today.

“Now that I’m in a good situation, I stay grounded in remembering the tough times I had and knowing that from now on it’s either you succeed or you don’t,” Rohskopf said. “The way I see it, if I’m going to do it, I’m going to go all in. I think I developed that mentality when I was younger without even realizing it. With all that stuff happening, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would not change the way I grew up because I love the person that it has made me.”