UNK Today | August 2014 - page 21

By BUCK MAHONEY
Hub Sports Editor
KEARNEY — Romero
Cotton will never forget April
24, 2012.
That’s the day he was
released from prison.
Cotton and his younger
brother were found guilty of
aggravated battery after they
came home one evening and
found another man in their
home. They were unaware he
was their mother’s guest. The
victim suffered several frac-
tured facial bones and other
injuries in the assault.
“It was an ugly, ugly situa-
tion, and I just have to rebound
from it,” said Cotton, a native
of Hutchinson, Kan.
His rebound is taking place
at the University of Nebraska
at Kearney where he won an
NCAA Division II wrestling
championship last year and
played running back on the
football team.
A psychology major, he
hopes to become a counselor
for troubled youths.
“I’ve been there, done that
and survived it, I guess. I feel
like I could be able to help
some people out,” Cotton said.
It’s a way to pay it forward.
In the past few years, a number
of people — family, friends,
old coaches and new coaches
among them — have stepped in
to guide Cotton’s life.
“There were just a lot of
people who helped me out when
I needed it, and I would like to do
the same things, if I can,” he said.
Cotton served 28 months of
a three-year sentence in Kansas
Department of Corrections
facilities at
El Dorado,
Hutchinson
and Winfield.
“I started
out at one of
the higher
security
because I was
young. Over
time, I stayed
out of trouble,
and my cus-
tody level kept dropping. The
better behavior we have, the
more your custody level drops
... and I never got into trouble,”
Cotton said.
But each institution had one
thing in common.
“Extremely boring, and I
mean extremely boring,” Cot-
ton said. “Extremely boring,
that’s about it. It’s just a lot of
down time, dead time, watch-
ing the world go by. It’s a lot of
a bunch of nothing.”
The hours of boredom gave
him time to think and time to
observe the people around him
and to cherish every opportuni-
ty he encounters.
“I always say, ‘Prison is for
everyone.’ There’s not just one
type of person there. There’s
judges, lawyers, teachers, pro-
fessors, people that could have
been the next Michael Jordan,
Mozarts, real artists, guys who
can sing,” Cotton said. “You
encounter all kinds of people,
but you will never know about
them because some of them
will never leave that place.
“It’s just the type of thing
that makes you want to take
every opportunity that you get.”
When Cotton was released,
he turned to his athletic abili-
ties to help him get started on
the right path. His first stop
was at Fort Hays State where
he started off-season workouts
with the Tigers that summer.
However, he found out that to
be eligible in the fall he needed
to complete his classes at
Hutchinson Community Col-
lege, where he had been on a
football scholarship at the time
of the assault.
He wrapped those up that
fall, then found a new home —
UNK.
“I knew (UNK wrestlers)
Daniel DeShazer and Chase
Nelson. We grew up wrestling
together since we were about
10 years old. … I came out
here and loved it,” Cotton said.
And UNK opened its doors
to him.
Cotton met with UNK offi-
cials, including wrestling coach
Marc Bauer, football coach
Darrell Morris and Athletic
Director Jon McBride.
“That was the best part about
coming here. ... They just said,
‘Hey, the past is the past; you’ll
be graded on whatever you do
from this day forward,’” Cotton
said. “I’m pretty sure there
aren’t many places that would
say that and put that much trust
in someone. That’s one of the
reasons I love this place.”
Cotton enrolled at UNK in
January 2013. By March, the
redshirt freshman had found a
spot on the UNK wrestling team
that won the NCAA Division II
national championship. Cotton
provided a big boost, going 9-2
and reaching the national cham-
pionship match at 197 pounds
before losing by a single point.
It was a quick turnaround
and involved a lot of intense
training and determination.
“If you ask Coach Bauer, I
was severely out of shape when
I first got here. At one time, I
got up to 225 pounds, and it
was not a good 225. It was a
zoo zoos and wham whams,
honey bun 225,” Cotton said.
“I believe I lost the national
championship last year because
I wasn’t in shape. I lost in triple
overtime. If I had one more
month or one more week, I
might have been able to pull
that one out.”
This March, Cotton dis-
played his superior condition-
ing in the national finals by
scoring three takedowns in the
last 80 seconds to claim the
national title.
“It felt great. I’ve had the
feeling before, and it’s one of
the feelings you go searching
for,” he said.
He’s found it a few times.
His first taste came when his
freshman football team won
a championship game. On the
wrestling
mat, he won
national
tournaments
throughout
his high
school
career.
“It’s
the same
feeling
every time.
It never gets
worse,” he said. “You work out
hard every day and do extras
every day just to try to get that
feeling. ... Hopefully, I can feel
that way again.”
Cotton has already sized up
the 197-pound weight class for
this coming year. Of the eight
All-Americans, only one grad-
uated, so Cotton knows he has
to be better this year. He hit the
wrestling camp circuit this sum-
mer to look for little tips and
tricks just to keep improving.
“Anything I haven’t seen
before, I’m picking up. It’s
been a pretty good summer,”
he said.
He has kept focus on his
other sport. Cotton earned
All-Mid-America Intercol-
legiate Athletics Association
honors as a running back for
the Loper football team.
He was one of the bright
spots in UNK’s 3-8 season by
averaging 4.6 yards per carry
while rushing for 801 yards —
eighth best in the MIAA. His
five touchdowns ranked second
on the team.
He will be
one of the few
familiar faces
on the Loper
football team
this year as
more than 50
newcomers are
on the roster.
“I’m real
excited about
this football
season. I hav-
en’t been this
excited about a
football season
in a long
time,” he said.
He said
he noticed
a change
as early as
wrestling
season when
he encoun-
tered football
players lifting
weights and
running when
the wrestlers
had early
morning
workouts.
Since then, he said the foot-
ball players have been hanging
out, going over the playbook
and focusing on improvement.
“When I first got here last
year, guys weren’t doing that.
Football season came when
football season is here. Now,
guys have been working all
year-round. ... Everybody is
going in the same direction,
which is a good thing. I’m just
real excited and looking for-
ward to seeing it. I think we’re
going to have a season we can
hang our hat on.”
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Fresh start
Cotton putting prison life behind him
UNK
Today
:
Loper Lineup
Rick Tucker, Kearney Hub
ON THE FOOTBALL
field, Romero Cotton was UNK’s leading
rusher and ranked second in touchdowns. Cotton was a standout
high school running back before going to prison.
“That was the
best part
about coming here. ... They
just said, ‘Hey, the past is
the past; you’ll be graded on
whatever you do from this
day forward.’”
Romero Cotton
Buck Mahoney, Kearney Hub
ON THE WRESTLING
mat, Romero Cotton
won the NCAA Division II national title at 197
pounds in March. Last year he finished second
at the national meet. Friendships with other
wrestlers brought Cotton to UNK when he was
released from prison in Kansas.
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