Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Tennessee Titans look to wrestling mats for draft picks

Stephen Neal in his collegiate days

By Maggie Hendricks

May 8, 2012

University of Iowa retired wrestling coach and Olympic gold medalist Dan Gable once said, "Once you've wrestled, everything else in life is easy." Perhaps the Tennessee Titans have that quote hanging in their war room, as they have targeted football players with grappling experience.

Their second and third-round draft picks both have wrestled. Zach Brown went undefeated as a heavyweight in his senior year of high school. Mike Martin won a state championship in Michigan his junior year of high school, and only gave up wrestling because of his football scholarship. Karl Klug, who has seven sacks for Tennessee as a rookie in 2011, qualified for the Minnesota state tournament as a wrestler.

"It's something that to me, when a guy has been a wrestler, especially when he has been a successful wrestler, it says something about his toughness and his commitment," general manager Ruston Webster said.

When teams draft both offensive and defensive linemen with a wrestling background, they get the toughness and commitment Webster mentioned, as well as an understanding of leverage, handfighting and balance that is hard to teach. Particularly in the heavier weights, wrestling matches are a battle of leverage that also require top conditioning.

The Titans aren't the only team to realize the strength wrestlers bring to football. Stephen Neal won two NCAA Division I wrestling championships -- one by beating eventual WWE star and UFC champion Brock Lesnar -- and a world championship before joining the New England Patriots for nine seasons. He didn't play football at Cal St.-Bakersfield. His wrestling prowess was enough to warrant an invite to camp.

Antonio Garay played football and wrestled at Boston College, winning All-American honors his sophomore year. Now playing for the San Diego Chargers, he had 8.5 sacks in his past two seasons.

Martin and Brown will soon start their first NFL minicamp with the Titans, but if Gable's words hold true, it will be easy for them. After all, they're wrestlers.

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