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Reversing the trend: Tackling 2 sports

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Those who attend the Columbus North at Columbus East wrestling match at 6 p.m. Wednesday will get a good look at the Bull Dogs’ Luis Cambron.

So that’s what he looks like? He won’t be wearing a football helmet.

The same could be said of East offensive lineman Rob McKee, North linebacker Luke Teague or East lineman Brock Greiwe.

Several football players on both squads now wrestle, and that is a triumph of sorts.

In today’s world of specialization, fewer high school athletes are playing more than one sport. Year-round training regimens often are required if the student-athletes expect to keep a starting role.

That is quite different from a couple of decades ago, when students weren’t so much baseball or football players. They were athletes.

Fortunately, North and East still promote students to be all-around athletes. Both football coaches, North’s Tim Bless and East’s Bob Gaddis, and both wrestling coaches, North’s Nick Skinner and East’s Chris Cooper, encourage their athletes to try other sports.

“The problem is that there are so many year-round programs today,” said East football coach and athletics director Bob Gaddis, who believes multisport athletes will become even more rare in the future. “I would like to see them compete in other sports. We always tell our football players the first time that we meet them, ‘If you can compete in other sports, do it.’”

When it comes to trying another sport, wrestling and football mesh pretty well.

“Keeping that competitive edge is the biggest thing,” Cooper said. “We encourage all our guys to play other sports.”

Skinner, who was a wrestler in college after playing football and wrestling in high school, said specialization as a high school student can have its downfalls.

“I think it is extremely important that you play more than one sport,” he said. “You don’t get those overuse injuries.”

The athletes also face different kinds of challenges. We all know that football players have to be tough because it is the most violent sport they can play in high school.

That being said, football players often play anonymously. Guys like Cambron and McKee, both highly successful offensive linemen, are cogs in a system that is aimed toward producing team success. If everything goes to plan, you seldom know they are even there because you are watching a running back dancing toward the end zone.

That’s not the case in wrestling, where the athletes put themselves right out in front of the crowd.

“You are on your own,” Skinner said. “It’s one of the reasons I loved wrestling over football when I went to college. And I do think that wrestling in high school develops that tough mentality for a football player.”

You wouldn’t think that a football player would need to learn anything about toughness, but exposure to wrestling presents a different kind of toughness.

If you are on the mat in front of 300 people, including a lot of your classmates and friends, and your opponent twists you into a pretzel and pins you, that can be ultra embarrassing. There are no teammates to blame for the downfall of the team. It takes mental toughness to come back to practice and work hard to get through it, and perhaps even have it all happen again.

“You have to be hard-nosed,” Cooper said. “It’s such a mental and physical battle in wrestling. And I do think it translates to the football field.”

Skinner said some of the other benefits are obvious.

“Wrestling improves your balance,” he said. “Defensive players improve their tackling ability tenfold. In wrestling, you have to maintain your head position, and that is important in tackling.

“Then there is just the physicality of the sport.”

Football players must stick to their workout plan, but wrestling kicks discipline up another notch as the athletes must be aware of their weight and diet.

“I tell the kids all the time, if you are going to wrestle, it is much more than showing up at practice,” Skinner said. “Hard work will pay off on the wrestling mat.”

All that hard work will be on display on the mats on Wednesday night at Columbus East High School. And you might not know it, but you might be seeing all that work pay off next season on the football field for both schools. It just will be covered up by helmets.

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