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Off the mat

Marcus LeVesseur beat addiction with the help of his coach, Jeff Swenson, and went on to become the only undefeated wrestler in Division III history

Marcus Levesseur, Augsburg College (Class Of 2007)

An escape and a takedown in the second period of the 165-pound final at the 2007 Division III Wrestling Championships made Augsburg’s Marcus LeVesseur only the second college wrestler to finish his career unbeaten and untied.

The team title LeVesseur helped win that year for the Auggies also was the exclamation point on coach Jeff Swenson’s 25-year coaching career.

Looking back, LeVesseur’s win in the championship match also serves as a bit of a metaphor. It came just months after the then 25-year-old took off a season between his junior and senior years and checked into an in-patient treatment center to escape dependency on alcohol, marijuana and tobacco.

Today, following in his mentor Swenson’s footsteps, he is a high school wrestling coach – still taking down what LeVesseur described in a 2007 NCAA On Campus video feature as a combination of addictions “that pretty much tore my life apart.”

He also is working as a paraprofessional in the school where he coaches – Hopkins High School in Minnesota – and is working toward completing a degree in health and physical education.

LeVesseur has come a long way. He initially accepted a scholarship offer to wrestle at Minnesota, but wasn’t comfortable there and moved to nearby Augsburg in 2002 without ever taking the mat for the Golden Gophers.

Under Swenson’s tutelage, he finished his first three seasons with a 124-0 record and three Division III 157-pound championships. He was set to become the first Division III wrestler ever to win four individual wrestling titles, but the quest was postponed.

“Through the course of my addiction, I was living to party,” LeVesseur said in the NCAA On Campus feature. “There was actually one night where I had a thought that, wow, if I can be a professional partier, that I would excel. But that’s the insanity of the illness. You think that’s it’s so prestigious, that you’re out there partying. You can take down five, 10 shots and still walk a straight line. That’s just ridiculous, but I was that guy.”

After punching a police officer’s car outside a party, he realized he was out of control.

“I wish it never, ever, ever happened but I’m very glad that it did, because it opened up my eyes to what’s going on. I checked myself into an in-patient treatment program, and I just wanted to learn everything I could about addiction and learn ways to alter my learned behaviors.”

He believed he had to do it alone, but found his coach there to help him off the mat, too.

“I’m a person, through my addiction or trying to recover, I just wanted to be by myself and find answers,” LeVesseur recalled. “But Swens always made a connection between me and him, was always there for positive reinforcement, just always talking to me and finding out, how is Marcus doing? And Swens took it to a deeper level, like a father figure would.”

Jeff Swenson, Augsburg College (Class Of 1979)

Swenson, who now is athletics director at Augsburg, received many accolades during and after his coaching career, which ended with the 2007 team championship – his 10th at his alma mater. In addition to his mat success both as a student-athlete (he won an NAIA title in 1979) and as a coach, he is known for producing 98 National Wrestling Coaches Association Scholar All-Americans and eight CoSIDA Academic All-America honorees.

Even as an administrator, he has remained active in the sport, recently having served as chair of the Division III Wrestling Committee.

Obviously, of the hundreds of young men who wrestled for Swenson, LeVesseur is special – both for his accomplishments and for his personal story.

Swenson said in the 2007 video that he never had coached a wrestler who was as much “a student of the sport.” But LeVesseur also excelled in other arenas. He played parts of two seasons as quarterback on the Auggie football team, earning all-Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference honors in 2004.

After his collegiate career ended, he became a mixed martial arts artist known as “The Prospect,” compiling a 22-7 record in professional bouts.

When LeVesseur escaped the hold of his opponent in his final Division III wrestling match, then scored the takedown for the 3-0 victory and the title, he joined Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson as the only undefeated wrestlers in NCAA history. The win, his 155th in a row, also was a milestone in LeVesseur’s bigger battle.

“Every single day is going to be a new challenge for Marcus,” Swenson told the NCAA On Campus interviewer. “Every single day he wakes up and has to deal with the pressures of staying clean and sober and focusing on the good things in life.”

Thanks to those who have supported LeVesseur through the years, including Swenson, the winning streak continues.

Nominated by Donald Stoner, director of sports information at Augsburg College.