As the Knights continue their undefeated football season, many seniors draw ever nearer to the end of their time here at Wartburg. According to football head coach Rick Willis, 27 seniors will be graduating this year. Of those 27, none are closer to that end than defensive team captain Rob Rottler, who is graduating in December of this year.
Though he is leaving sooner than his fellow seniors, the aspiring secondary science educator actually postponed his graduation after a debilitating knee injury took him out of play only one game into the season last year. After undergoing surgery on Oct. 6, 2016, Rottler said he started rehab the next day in order to hopefully get back into playing shape, even though the prospect seemed doubtful. After a few weeks, however, he found hope for another season.
“My rehab was going pretty well,” Rottler said. “The doctors said that my knee should be as near 100% as it could be. Initially, after the injury, I thought for sure my career was over,”
Rottler said that his decision to return was also helped by what he called a sub-par 2016 season by Wartburg standards and by the promise of a better 2017 season.
“Realizing that we’d have a pretty good team this year going in and making a run for a championship contributed to my decision to come back,” Rottler said.
Head coach Rick Willis also expressed pride in Rottler and lamented his season-ending injury.
“It was devastating both for Rob personally and for the team to lose him last year,” Willis said. “He would’ve been one of our leaders on defense a year ago had he been able to play.”
Since returning for his fifth season, Rottler’s comeback has been a formidable one. He is second on the team in tackles, racking up 88 total in his 10 games played. Beyond that, though, Rottler is also defensive team captain, a role Willis said he fills very well, choosing to lead by example.
“He’s not afraid to speak up and say things but his main way is just by being a tough, hard-nosed guy that does things the right way and sets a great example for others to follow,” Willis said.
After clinching the IIAC title with a 56-14 victory at Buena Vista University, the team Rottler came back for has not only made a run for a championship but has also gone undefeated in 10 straight games after a first week bye, outscoring opponents 367-152.
While people will remember Rottler’s last season for the winning record, Willis said he will remember Rottler himself for something else.
“It’s not easy to come back from an injury like that, especially at his position,” Willis said. “But then to come back and play so well and what he brought to our program…there’s always guys that have certain things that pop into your mind when you say their name and for Rob Rottler I think it’s going to be ‘Yeah, he was a tough football player.’”