Wartgow named among Northern Nevada's best student-athletes

Walking around the Douglas High campus and talking with senior Luke Wartgow's coaches, it's not hard to see why he was chosen as one of the Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association's Top 10 Student-Athletes of the Year.

Sure, he put up the numbers in his two sports, football and track. He carries that 4.3 GPA and will have appeared on the honor roll during each of his eight semesters in high school by the end of this school year. He ranks seventh academically in a class of nearly 450 and serves as president of the Block D lettermen's club in all that free time he has between classes, homework, sports and his job.

But what truly stands out about Wartgow, and perhaps the reason he became Douglas' first student-athlete honored by the NIAA since 2004 (Luke Rippee and Michelle Patterson), is who he is as a person.

"I always tell the high school athletes, especially the more visible ones, that it may not be something you want or that you asked for, but you are a role model for the kids in this community," Douglas athletic director Jeff Evans said. "Luke has always done very well with that. He never needed a reminder. He's just an all-around good kid and he carries himself very well.

"He's a hard worker, he's a pleasure to be around and he sets himself apart."

The NIAA selects the end-of-the-year awards based on an athlete's total school and community involvement.

"Grades and things like that, those things start at home," Douglas football coach Mike Rippee said. "Kids that are brought up with a good head on their shoulders are going to have this type of success. It's a credit to Luke and his family. He's just a standout kid."

When Wartgow was notified that he'd been selected, he had to read the letter twice.

"I couldn't believe it," he said. "I just kept thinking about how many athletes there are in the north, how many good students. It was a good feeling."


"It's tough, you know, the idea of being a student-athlete," Wartgow said. "You always hear the student comes before the athlete in that phrase, which is true. But at the same time, you have practice right after school.

"You get to your homework sometime after that. It really is a circus of trying to balance it all. You can't watch television for a good amount of time without worrying about what's due or how I need to be improving my ability as far as sports goes. It's a crazy deal."

And yet, somewhere in the middle of balancing it all, Wartgow found the time to get the next couple years of his life mapped out.

He'll attend the University of Nevada, Reno in the fall, where he'll major in wildlife ecology. He's already won a work scholarship with the Nevada Department of Wildlife over the next several summers and hopes to catch on full time there after graduating from college.

"I always felt like that's where I needed to be," said Wartgow, who also volunteered with the Carson Valley Chukar Club fundraiser. "I don't see myself doing anything else. Things like working with big game statistics and such, that interests me. I want to stay in Nevada, this is home to me."


Wartgow was the third from his family to come through coach Rippee's program. His dad, Bobby, played defensive back for the Tigers in the early '80s and his brother Kaleb was a defensive end before graduating in 2005.

Following the family trend, Luke was thrust into the starting middle linebacker slot for the Tigers this past fall.

"Yeah, we don't mention the "O" word in my house," Wartgow said with a laugh.

"Offense is just a word we don't say. My dad was a cornerback, Kaleb was a defensive end. Defense was always a natural fit for us. Defense wins championships and it's better to hit people than to get hit."

Natural as it might have been, Wartgow was thrust into some pretty big shoes heading into the year. He was charged with replacing Brent Koontz, the 2006 Northern 4A Defensive Player of the Year, who just happened to anchor one of the staunchest defensive units in school history.

"That was tough," Wartgow said. "I've never been through something like that in my life. It's a leadership position. Having to lead the entire defense, it was something I was nervous about all the way up until the first game."

It didn't help that his starting debut came against Reed, traditionally one of the most potent offenses in the region.

The Raiders rolled up 375 yards of total offense in a 38-15 win in Minden.

"After we got blown out like that, I was getting pretty worried," Wartgow said. "I didn't know what to think.

Douglas came back the next week, however, and upset Manogue 13-7 while holding the Miners to just 169 total yards. Wartgow also forced a couple of key turnovers late in the game to preserve the win.

"After that game, that's when I started feeling like I could lead the defense," he said. "I had a lot more confidence and we had a lot more confidence as a team."

The Douglas defense indeed found its niche, finishing tops in the region in run defense and near the top in every other defensive category.

"We just had solid guys up front and that set the linebackers up to stop the run," Wartgow said. "This is a group of guys that I've been playing with since fourth, fifth and sixth grade.

"We had a lot of confidence in each other. We knew if we worked as a unit, we'd be fine."

Rippee took it a couple steps further.

"Luke had a guy like Brent Koontz to replace, he knew we were looking for someone to step up and lead that defense," Rippee said. "He played some middle linebacker as a junior and he really turned it up as a senior. He had a great year, our defense had a great year and on defense you are only going to be as good as your middle linebacker."


Every time Wartgow stepped out on the field since his Pop Warner days, he's been in a constant battle against two opponents.

There were always the guys on the other side of the ball and there was always a severe case of asthma.

He was first diagnosed with it during his first season of football, but it got progressively worse as he advanced through the high school ranks.

"My junior year it was really bad," he said. "I couldn't go more than two plays without having to sit out. Heading into my senior year, I really tried to prepare myself so that wouldn't happen as much. I learned some exercises that would help."

For instance?

"Well, singing helps open up my throat," he said. "During wind sprints, guys would give me a hard time because I'm busting out a song trying to keep my airway clear."

Even with the extra preparation though, the coaching staff had to keep him on a short leash.

"We had a deal going," Rippee said. "We condition very hard and we just had an understanding that there would be days he wouldn't be able to finish with us. We knew he'd be in the best shape he could be in for us and the deal was if he started to feel it come on, he had to break away and get his inhaler.

"Sometimes I'd see it first and tell him to step back and take it easy. He never wanted to be treated special though. He pushed himself beyond belief. Most kids with the affliction he deals with wouldn't even consider coming out for football."

When the asthma was at its worst, the coaching staff tried to find other ways to keep Wartgow involved in practice, like using a stationary bike.

"We tried some little things like that, but he hated every one of them," Rippee said. "He wanted to be out there running with the rest of the team."

It all came back to leadership.

"It was just a thing of you want your teammates to look at you and know you're doing the same as them," Wartgow said. "You don't want to be doing less and getting more playing time. I got to where I could push myself as far as I could without being done for the day.

"There were some scary times. I tried not to push myself too hard, but there were times where I couldn't do any more or where I was actually scared for my life.

"But I always knew my teammates were counting on me to get the job done. If I as sitting on the sidelines trying to catch my breath, then I felt like I shouldn't be in the position I was in."

And it was that type of attitude that made him stand out to his coaches as a leader in the first place.


That extreme work ethic carried over to track, where Wartgow became Douglas' first male athlete to qualify for regionals in a throwing event in the last five years.

He fell just a half-inch short of his personal best in the discus at regionals, throwing a 141-05.

"I guess I just had a knack for throwing heavy things," he said, laughing. "It was a good feeling to go out throwing my best."

His best was something he was willing to sacrifice he weekends for.

"He was always calling me up on Sundays and over the summer to go out and throw," Douglas throwing coach Joe Andrews said. "He's one of the hardest workers I've met. It paid off, you could see it. He had a 20-foot improvement this year."

For Wartgow, the weekend calls were more about getting himself straightened out.

"If I threw bad on a Saturday, I couldn't stand it," he said. "I wanted to show myself I could do better than that, so I'd call Joe up to see if he wanted to go throw."

But always, with everyone who has dealt with Wartgow as a student or an athlete, it hasn't been so much about the ability.

"He's the kind of kid that makes me want to do what I do as a coach," Andrews said. "He works hard and he's a funny guy. He's one of the quietest, funniest kids we've had out here."

With graduation, Wartgow's athletic career also appears to be coming to a close.

He'll be able to carry a strong skill set into the next chapter of his life with what he's learned so far, though.

"Of course I have those thoughts about continuing on in sports," Wartgow said. "I don't think football is an option though because with my breathing it would be tough to convince a coach somewhere that I'm worth it. Nevada doesn't have boys' track, so that's pretty much it.

"I have my future set up though and that's OK."


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