Last Wara brother lifts Oshkosh

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Nate Wara is the last of his brothers to play football at UW-Oshkosh and has helped the Titans have the most success.
Photo by Larry Radloff,
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By Andrew Wagner

OSHKOSH, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh had accomplished very little in the sport of football in the decades before Nate Wara arrived on campus, but nonetheless, Wara had some big shoes to fill, even before taking his first snap as the Titans’ quarterback.

Wara is the fourth member of his family to wear the Titans’ black and gold, following his oldest brother, Nick, who was Oshkosh’s quarterback from 2001-04. Josh Wara was a safety for the Titans while Justin played receiver.

“Yeah ... We’ve been here for a while,” Wara said with a laugh earlier this season.

The three Wara boys – and their sister – knew early on that there was something special about Nate, whose competitive nature was apparent from an early age.

“He works extremely hard,” said Nick Wara. “He’s always been ultra-competitive and the kind of person that pushes everyone around him to work as hard as he does.”

Despite the family tradition, Wara wasn’t sure he’d stay in town after playing four years at Oshkosh North High School where he threw for 3,075 yards and 28 touchdowns in three seasons as a starter.

After leading the Spartans to an 8-3 record as a junior, averaging 134 passing and 59 rushing yards per game, he threw for 1,404 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior, attracting interest from some Division II schools, including North Dakota State (since moved to Division I FCS) and Mankato State in Minnesota.

He also briefly considered walking on at Wisconsin.

Wara’s brothers stayed out of the recruiting process, offering input when asked, but tried not to steer him in any direction.

“We wanted him to make his own decision,” Nick Wara said. “We gave him our feedback if he asked, but we wanted Nate to make decision that was best for him.”

The decision turned out to be Oshkosh and Cerroni, then entering his third season at the helm and spent the previous six as defensive coordinator, couldn’t have been happier.

“I really enjoyed coaching his older brothers, but I didn’t expect Nate to come here,” Cerroni said. “It ended up working out.”

The Titans struggled during Wara’s first two seasons, posting consecutive 4-6 records while going a combined 5-9 in the WIAC. But behind Wara’s 1,838 passing yards and 18 touchdown throws, Oshkosh finished 7-3 overall last season while going 5-2 in the league to finish second in the conference.

“We were a .500 ball club and begging him to stay with us, stick with the plan and trust us that it will work out," Cerroni said. "Two years ago, that was a hard sell. That’s the most gratifying thing. You make those claims behind closed doors and now you’re seeing it come through.”

With 1,284 yards rushing this season, junior Cole Myhra, above, has taken some carries away from Nate Wara, who used to run more often earlier in his career.
Photo by Larry Radloff,

While the Titans were experiencing growing pains on the field, Wara was growing – mentally and physically – off the field. Where Wara was a football player when he arrived on campus, he admitted there was still plenty to learn.

“I guess you could say I’ve learned the game of football,” Wara said. “These coaches have taught me a lot.”

Wara has full command of the Titans’ offense, the 10th-best unit in the nation this season entering the playoffs. A dual-threat quarterback, Wara is just as dangerous with his feet as he is with his arm and though the coaches have given him freedom to make decisions on the fly, he's mature enough now to know when to run and when to stay put.

"If I see a hole, I’ll take it," Wara said. "The coaches give me the freedom to check out of a few things and if it’s wide open, I’ll take off. But if it’s not something consistent, I’ll stay with it."

During the regular season, Wara completed 166 of 252 attempts (65.9 percent) for 2,389 yards with 22 touchdowns and just one interception; good for a 173.5 passer rating, the seventh-best in all of Division III.

In his four years at Oshkosh, Wara has made 41 consecutive starts, throwing for 8,146 yards (second in school history) and 75 touchdowns (sixth in school history) and he entered the postseason with a career passer rating of 147.9, setting a program record.

He’s written his way into the WIAC record books as well, entering the playoffs among the all-time top ten in completions (fifth, 678), touchdowns (fifth), passing yards (ninth), pass attempts (tenth, 1,047) and passer rating (third).

“He’s just an outstanding quarterback,” UW-Whitewater coach Lance Leipold said. “He’s a difference-maker whether he’s throwing or running but his strength and ability to keep plays alive and either take off on his own or put the ball right on the money, it’s what makes that offense go.”

Nate Wara ran for a season-high 128 yards Saturday in UWO's win against St. Scholastica.
Photo by Larry Radloff,

Wara was also a threat with his feet, rushing 129 times for 561 yards and seven touchdowns, leading his team to a perfect 10-0 record and their first WIAC championship since 1976. He then added 12 carries for 128 yards in a first-round playoff win.

Those gaudy numbers, however, don’t completely tell the full story.

“He’s probably the biggest competitor you’ll ever meet,” said his coach, Pat Cerroni. “He’s just so talented.”

His maturity was readily evident in the Titans’ upset of then-No. 5 UW-Whitewater. After jumping out to a 21-0 lead, Wara kept his team on task as the Warhawks rallied back in the third quarter and forced the Titans into a string of frustrating three-and-outs.

“Maybe a younger Nate might have panicked a bit or complained a little, but older and wiser, he’s been through it before,” Cerroni said.

Wara was steady and calm in the huddle and on the sideline and stomped out any hope of a Whitewater comeback midway through the fourth quarter when he connected with Cory Wipperfurth on a 40-yard strike, setting the stage for Cole Myhra’s 1-yard touchdown run that made it a 28-13 game with just under 7 minutes to play.

“It’s my job to keep them up,” Wara said. “I can’t be yelling at them. I have to stay calm and when things go bad, I can’t just yell and scream about it. We knew they were going to come out and hit us in the mouth. But we just had to keep going with it and do what we do.”

His performance against the Warhawks, winners of the last three national championships, left Leipold impressed.

“That was his experience showing,” Leipold said. “He’s been through the league. He’s gone against good teams. You can just tell he’s got that ‘it’ factor; that moxie as a quarterback.”

A week later at UW-La Crosse, where Oshkosh hadn’t won since the Lyndon Johnson administration, Wara was superb again, completing 20 of 30 passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns in the Titans’ 41-7 victory.

“He’s the best quarterback I’ve ever seen,” said senior receiver Caleb Voss, who led the team with 44 receptions, 908 yards and nine touchdowns. “He makes the most out of every play”

Watching Wara play has been a treat for Cerroni, who said he’s encouraged his coaches to take time to appreciate Wara’s abilities and natural talents. With the playoffs continuing Saturday against Bethel, there will be at least one more chance.

“I haven’t gone back to the bench to talk to the defense much because I want to stand there on the sideline and watch him play,” Cerroni said. “I know how special he is. You get one of those guys once in your career. I’m happy for him.”