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Fighting Forfeits with Football
By Mike Finn
“If any athlete has even the slightest
interest in wrestling, come see me. We could really use some help in the 220 and 285 weight classes.”
— Cannon Falls coach Dudley Flodeen
The following quote was found in the Jan. 6, 2012 Cannon Falls Beacon newspaper after the Minnesota high school team lost a pair of dual meets, 39-31 and 37-31, partly because Flodeen had to forfeit his two heaviest weight classes.
Forfeits have become a problem in recent years on the high school level. That problem became even worse this winter once high school associations adopted the new National Federation of State High School Associations weight classes that increased the number of weights over 170 pounds from four to five.
The problem is that many high school coaches are having a hard time finding athletes to fill those spots. For example, during the Battle of Waterloo (Iowa) tournament in December, where 32 teams competed over two days, there were 183 forfeits and 100 of those took place at 170 pounds and above; 50 of which came at 220 and 285 pounds.
In looking for bigger athletes, the most obvious place to look would be on the football field. Unfortunately, fewer football players are wrestling. In the past, wrestling made a good “off-season” place for football players to train. Today, those big guys are asked to get even bigger in the weight room during the winter.
“In high school before, football was a three-month sport,” said Maryland wrestling coach Kerry McCoy. “Now it seems like the kids are playing during their season and in the off-season if they are serious about playing football at the next level. They have to be football all year round.
“That’s what is causing some of the bigger athletes not to wrestle. They don’t know how many college coaches are saying, if you are going to play football, I don’t want you doing anything else.”
McCoy is quick to point out that Stephen Neal, the former Cal-State Bakersfield heavyweight who won both an NCAA and World freestyle championship in 1999 later spent 10 years playing football for the New England Patriots … after not playing college football.
“Wrestling is the best thing he could have done to help him with his football career,” said McCoy, who competed against Neal on the mat. “From his first three years in the league, he went from a novice who didn’t know anything to the most improved player on the Patriots who won the Super Bowl.”
On Jan. 8, ESPN profiled Atlanta’s Roddy White, a former South Carolina state champ, who described how he uses his wrestling skills and mentality in playing wide receiver.
Former Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable is a proponent of competing in both sports.
“There are so many more benefits in a wrestling room than a weight room, from the mental and physical competitive point of view that there is no comparison,” said legendary wrestling coach Dan Gable. “Some people think football coaches don’t understand wrestling, but I don’t buy that. I just think football coaches want to be more in control of their athlete. They don’t trust other people to let their players develop.”
Gable also believes that football players can get something that is hard to do on a much more crowded football field.
“They need to learn some one-on-one time, which always helps team sports out because football teams are made up of 11 one-on-ones,” Gable said. “The more they can be strong as an individual and less dependent on those other individuals, they will help the entire team.
“I also believe that the “feel” and the “positions” of wrestling are unbelievably important. And if a football player becomes a good wrestler, that will do even more in helping his self-confidence.”
Those former football players who did make wrestling their full-time sport do miss the gridiron. McCoy learned that from watching his heavyweight Spencer Myers. The Terp who was part of a state football championship team at Selinsgrove, Pa., while also winning a state wrestling championship in 2010.
“It’s still one of those things during football season, he likes football,” McCoy said. “I have to remind him, this is what your focus is. He says I’m committed to wrestling but I still love football. October through December is a tough time for him.”
Gable faced that problem once himself and recommended that one of his former heavyweights, John Oostendorp, a four-year starter, play football preceding his two All-American seasons (1992 and 1993).
“It was a case where I had always planned on playing college football all the way up through my senior year (of high school) when coach Gable offered me a wrestling scholarship,” recalled Oostendorp. “I think he realized it was important for me to get that out of my system.”
Oostendorp, who later was part of the United States national Greco-Roman team (1993-98), has served as head wrestling coach at Coe College, an NCAA Division III program in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Oostendorp, like all college coaches, must work hard to find larger high school athletes to fill his biggest college weight classes.
“There definitely are more kids looking to play football in college than wrestle or you are not finding the numbers of wrestlers who want to continue to wrestle in college,” Oostendorp said. “When you do find one, it’s a big asset. It’s a high recruiting priority.”
Unfortunately, high school wrestling coaches are now faced with the same challenge.