Speaking From Experience

Former Vikings’ center Sullivan encourages kids to wrestle, play multiple sports

By Brian Jerzak

As a freshman in Connecticut, a young John Sullivan watched from the stands as his high school lost a dual meet to one of his school’s rivals. One of the matches Greenwich High School lost that night was at heavyweight. Sullivan felt if he went out for wrestling he could help his school beat that rival next time they faced off. Soon after filing out of the gym that night, the future Minnesota Vikings center joined the wrestling program. What he got out of just over three years of wrestling helped shape him into the athlete he has become. Competing in multiple sports is a path he encourages other kids who want to reach a high level in athletics or life to experience.

“We were wrestling a high school called Danbury High School that had been the dominant team there for a long time,” Sullivan recalled. “I watched their heavyweight beat ours, and I thought ‘I think I can beat that kid.’ I ended up going out for the wrestling team that year.”

While watching his high school team lose might have been the spark to get him interested, the future Notre Dame football star’s competitiveness added fuel to the fire.

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Messages From The Mat to The Gridiron

By Brian Jerzak

One thing I have learned while covering both wrestling and football – coaches in both sports feel the two disciplines complement each other in ways that improve the athlete in both sports. Wrestling coaches routinely look to the football field each fall to find diamonds in the rough to add depth or fill a hole, especially in the upper weights. Football coaches, on the other hand, often encourage their athletes to wrestle because of the many crossover skills associated with each sport. One of the many football coaches who have used wrestling to help his football career is the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Mike Zimmer.

Although wrestling was not his first choice, the Illinois native quickly found a home on the mat.

“When I was in sixth grade I went out for the basketball team and did not make it,” said Zimmer. “My dad said ‘why don’t you come over to the high school and wrestle after school.’ That is pretty much when I started wrestling. I would walk down to the high school after school and wrestle with the freshmen.”

Zimmer had success right away.

“When I was in sixth grade, I was beating freshmen, so I thought I was pretty good at it.”

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