Shortly after I finished the fourth grade at Carlton Middle School in Milwaukee, my family moved 20 miles west, to the “bedroom community” of Pewaukee in 1970. A few days later I would be introduced to the sport of wrestling by the Watt brothers (Al, Jerry and John) in their back yard. Al and Jerry Watt often organized tournaments so we were wrestling constantly in the grass.
By the time I was a 9th grader I was 105 lbs., and to my surprise, found myself wrestling on the Pewaukee varsity team. I guess all that wrestling in Watt’s back yard paid off, even though I was always one of the lightest guys. Winning 4 consecutive Scenic Moraine team championships was the highlight of my high school wrestling career, but what I remember most was the lifelong lessons learned: Accountability, Initiative and Perseverance.
Since then, I have enjoyed 30 plus years of successful teaching experiences as a high school shop teacher, 20 plus years as a wrestling assistant/head coach and 20 plus years as the Wisconsin Heights football PA guy. In other words, I’ve seen my fair share of classrooms, shops, high school football and wrestling.
The high school football season is upon us and I will soon be up in the Heights press box announcing the games. While each year is a different season, every year the same question pops up: “Do you think high school wrestlers make better football players?” My answer has always been yes, but I was not 100% sure, since I could only name 2 NFL players who did wrestle in high school.
So, I decided to research the topic and here is what I found.
The following quotes from some famous NFL and college football coaches support my contention:
“I draft wrestlers because they are tough. I have never had a problem with a wrestler.”- Joe Gibbs, Hall of Fame football coach-Washington Redskins.
“I would have all of my offensive linemen wrestle if I could.”- John Madden, Hall of Fame football coach-Oakland Raiders.
“I love wrestlers. They are tough and they make great football players.” Mike Stoops, National Championship football coach-University of Oklahoma
“Wrestlers make coaching football easy. They have balance, coordination, and as a coaching staff, we know they’re tough.” –Tom Osborne, College Hall of Fame football coach-University of Nebraska
Although I uncovered a mountain of football-players-once-wrestlers, here is a sample list of some of the more well-known NFL football players who wrestled in high school or college:
Rhonde Barber, SS, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tiki Barber, RB, New York Giants
Tedy Bruschi, ILB, New England Patriots
Roger Craig, RB, San Francisco 49’ers
Curley Culp, DL, Kansas City Chiefs – NCAA Champ
Larry Czonka, RB, Miami Dolphins
Dan Dierdorff, OT, St. Louis Cardinals
Jim Everett, QB, New Orleans Saints
Terrell Fletcher, RB, San Diego Chargers
Bob Golic, DT, Cleveland Browns – OH State Champ
Archie Griffin, HB, Cincinnati Bengals
John Hannah, G, New England Patriots
Jay Hilgenberg, C, Chicago Bears – IA State Runner-Up
Bo Jackson, RB, Oakland Raiders
Henry Jordan, DT, Green Bay Packers
Alex Karras, Detroit Lions
Tim Krumrie, DL, Cincinnati Bengals – WI State Champ
Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens – 2x FL State Champ
Ronnie Lott, DB, San Francisco 49’ers
Randle McDaniel, G, Minnesota Vikings
Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh Steelers – PA State Champ
Jim Plunkett, QB, Oakland Raiders
Warren Sapp, DT Tampa Bay Buccaneers – FL State Champ
Mark Schlereth, OL, Washington Redskins – Alaska State Champ
Tony Siragusa, DT, Baltimore Ravens – NJ State Champ
Jim Thorpe, HB, New York Giants
Adam Vinatieri, K, New England Patriots
Ricky Williams, RB, Miami Dolphins
Several years ago I watched Chris McIntosh from Pewaukee High School pin his opponent at the WIAA State Wrestling Tournament in his HWT championship match. He would later play offensive tackle for the Wisconsin Badgers and the Seattle Seahawks.
J.J. Watt never wrestled at Pewaukee High School, like his dad and uncles, but according to his father John, he did wrestle in grade school. My thought on this, if J.J. had wrestled in high school, he would have been a state champ hands down, since the guy doesn’t even seem to lose at Tiddlywinks.
Here’s what I know about the sport of wrestling:
Wrestling teaches you how to be agile and well-balanced when on your feet. It teaches you how to be mentally and physically tough, because the numerous bumps, deep bruises and mat burns don’t go away until the end of the season. Finally, the sport teaches you how to use your hips and legs from a number of awkward positions in order to escape and your arms as levers to stop an opponent from spinning behind. In a nutshell, wrestling is a very demanding and tough sport.
After collecting and reviewing this stack of evidence, I am now 100% sure that it’s safe to say, “Yes, in some cases high school wrestling can make you a better football player.”——————