Football, wrestling programs work hand-in-hand at North Scott

ELDRIDGE — They train together in the weight room during the summer. They spend multiple hours together every day on the practice field or in the wrestling room for seven consecutive months.

“Going through that grind together, it is a bond you can’t really match,” senior Adam Link said.

When the North Scott High School football team takes the field Friday night at Go-Hawk Field in Waverly for a Class 4A state quarterfinal, there will be at least seven starters on Tim Brunkan’s defense who wrestle.

“Those are the two toughest sports you can play,” said Link, a safety and a middle weight wrestler. “Those sports are a lot of the same things — discipline, toughness and coming in every day and putting your head down and getting to work.”

A strong connection has linked football and wrestling. Both sports rely on hand-fighting and winning one-on-one battles. Wrestlers tend to make good football players and vice versa.

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That correlation is especially true at North Scott.

Two years ago when the Lancers captured the program’s first state football title, seven of their eight starting offensive and defensive linemen were in the wrestling program.

Wrestlers are in every segment of North Scott’s defense this season.

Defensive linemen AJ Petersen, Nate Schneckloth and David Borchers wrestled at the top three weight classes for the Lancers last year. Linebackers Seth Madden, Aydan Cary, Nolan Engelbrecht and Luke Belken are in wrestling coach Drew Kelly’s program along with Link.

“We’re just a bunch of dogs,” Borchers said. “It is great for chemistry because we’re together the whole year. There are rough patches where we want to strangle each other, but it is great for our bond.”

Football teams spend about every day together during the fall. It is magnified during the wrestling season with overnight weekend trips.

“You’re in a hotel with these other guys and you’re bonding a lot,” Petersen said. “In that time, you learn their limits and what helps each other communicate. So when you’re on the field and yelling at each other, I realize, ‘OK, I know what I can do to help settle this guy down and focus him back in.’”

Football coach Kevin Tippet has emphasized multi-sport athletes during his tenure. He’s had all-state basketball, baseball and soccer players come through his football program.

Wrestlers, though, possess a different mindset.

“My two sons are both wrestlers, so I can say wrestlers are different in a good way,” Tippet said. “You have to be extremely confident in yourself to go out on that mat. It is you and another man and it is physical combat. There is some inborn confidence and swag.”

Both sports are physically taxing with August football practices often conducted in 90-degree heat or wrestlers drenched from working out in sauna-like conditions.

“Wrestling practices are tough,” Borchers said. “You’re showing up and grinding every day.”

While there can be a disconnect between the football and wrestling programs at some schools, the sports work in harmony at North Scott.

Kelly is a junior high football coach for the Lancers. Tippet quips that Kelly uses the seven to eight weeks to recruit football players to wrestle. 

A physical education teacher at the high school, Kelly works closely with North Scott’s strength and conditioning coach and the football team’s offensive line coach Tony Stewart.

“You get coaches like Kelly and Stew who are around each other so much, they start thinking alike,” Petersen said. “So when you’re with them all the time, you start thinking like that and then everybody starts thinking like that.

“You’re one mind on the field.”

Kelly places a premium on pushing the pace and accumulating points in his wrestling program. Tippet and his staff talk frequently about being more physical than the opposition.

“Both sports benefit from it,” Tippet said.

North Scott’s toughness will get tested Friday night against a Waverly-Shell Rock squad which has its own set of standout wrestlers.

Fullback and end McCrae Hagarty, a two-time Class 3A state champion and Iowa State University wrestling commit, is the Go-Hawks’ leading rusher with 1,343 yards and 24 touchdowns. Jake Walker, a heavyweight and junior freestyle All-American, has registered 9 ½ tackles for loss.

“There are a lot of guys on that (Waverly-Shell Rock) team with a good mental mindset,” Borchers said. “They’re going to be hard to break, but if we keep the tempo and apply pressure, we can do it.”

With expected temperatures in the 40s and rain, it could turn into a smash-mouth affair. Tippet said the Go-Hawks (10-0) arguably are the most physical team the Lancers have encountered this season.

“We talk to our kids every week about imposing our will and this is going to be one of those weeks where it is going to come down to who is more physical at the point of attack,” Tippet said.

Waverly-Shell Rock has not had a close contest all season — 10 wins by 21 points or more. North Scott dropped back-to-back games during the middle of the season to Cedar Rapids Xavier and Iowa City Liberty, but has won its last five by an average of almost 37 points per game.

“Those two losses were big eye-openers,” Link said. “We thought we were rolling and we got punched in the mouth a couple times.”

“It doesn’t hurt to get humbled once in a while,” Borchers said.

That same grit and gumption needed to prevail on the mat is a must for the Lancers on Friday if they plan to extend their season into next week.

“We know we’re going to be the best team they’ve played this year,” Borchers said. “We need to stay with what we know and remain disciplined.

“Ultimately, it is about stopping the run and just fighting.”

Link and his teammates know that all too well from wrestling.

“The better guy wins,” Link said, “and that will show again on Friday.”

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