Sticking To The Basics – Moorhead Spuds

Moorhead head wrestling coach Skip Toops’ path toward helping bring the Spuds wrestling program back to the glory days of the late ’70s and early ’80s did not go in a straight line. Many times his path started to lead him in a different direction from the wrestling room. In the end, his path became clear. Since he became the head coach for the Spuds, Moorhead wrestling has had its best stretch of results in more than thirty years – in large part because the program became a reflection of its coach. It has stuck to the basics.

Toops grew up in New London and wrestled for New London-Spicer. He is from a family full of athletes and coaches, but none of them were wrestlers. Toops would be the first to pursue the sport past the early youth levels.

“My mom put me in wrestling when I was five years old because I was an overly active and aggressive kid,” Toops said. “My dad had been the head basketball coach at my school until I was born, and my brothers were basketball players, but wrestling just fit with who I was.”

View exclusive subscriber content with The Guillotine Subscription. Current subscribers log in.

One of Minnesota’s best football players sticks with wrestling

By Brian Jerzak

Few wrestling families in the state of Minnesota have had the success of the Moore family from Jackson County Central. Cooper is a two-time Minnesota state champion and is a two-time MAC conference champion for Northern Iowa. Brother Paden is a one-time state champion and is ready to start his college career with his brother at UNI. The youngest of the Moore brothers is JCC senior Keegan Moore. Keegan has a chance to be the most decorated of the Moore brothers – brothers who have helped Keegan get into the sport and helped make him one of the best wrestlers in the nation.

“(My brothers) always make sure I am going hard. Growing up and watching them wrestle I definitely learned from them,” Moore said. “All three of us wanted to be doing the same thing.”

Originally Moore saw himself as a football player first and a wrestler second.

“I went out for wrestling to become a better football player,” Moore said. “My dad was a football coach, and he thought it would be the way to go. We ended up being better at wrestling.”

View exclusive subscriber content with The Guillotine Subscription. Current subscribers log in.

The Strange Journey of Jojo Garcia

By Brian Jerzak

It has been a strange, sad journey for former Minnesota Gophers’ football recruit and one-time possible Gophers wrestler Jovanny “Jojo” Garcia. As a freshman, he was one of the top Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestlers in his age group in the state. As a senior he is hoping to wrestle for the Simley Spartans.

As a sophomore and a junior Garcia was one of the top football recruits in the state. He played defensive tackle for two years for the East Ridge Raptors and nearly helped his team to a state championship. Although he has not wrestled a varsity match, he is active with the Minnesota Storm.

One of the best football players in the state – even though he has not played in a year – Garcia feels wrestling was invaluable to his football success.

“Wrestling has been my sport since I was four years old. My hips are strong. Pretty much everything a defensive tackle needs to know with hand techniques I have gotten it all from wrestling.”

View exclusive subscriber content with The Guillotine Subscription. Current subscribers log in.

Wrestling is a Family Affair

By Brian Jerzak

From a very young age, Marty Morgan has been involved in some aspect of wrestling. From youth wrestling, through his time as the Minnesota Gophers’ head wrestling assistant, and beyond, Morgan has been involved in the sport. Wrestling has always been a big influence on his life. It has had almost as much influence as his family. For Morgan, wrestling has always been – and always will be – a family affair.

“My three oldest brothers were all professional boxers, and my dad ended up switching to wrestling. Three of us, the younger brothers – we had six boys total – the three younger ones, we all switched into wrestling. I just followed my brothers who were older than me. We were at Kennedy High School, which was a strong program in the early 80’s in which we were state champions twice. My brothers both went on to become college All-Americans and were both on the Olympic team. I had some good mentors right in my own house.”

Morgan was a very good high school wrestler, but could never get over the hump and become a state champion. After he got into college Morgan got over the hump. He won two national championships – one with (at the time) Division II North Dakota State and one with Minnesota.

“When I got to college I became an NCAA champion which is probably my number one athletic moment.”

View exclusive subscriber content with The Guillotine Subscription. Current subscribers log in.

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.”

View exclusive subscriber content with The Guillotine Subscription. Current subscribers log in.

Plastic Trophies to Olympic Medals

By Brian Jerzak

There never has been much doubt in the mind of St. Michael-Albertville wrestler Mitchell McKee. He had a pretty good idea what he wanted to do at a young age. Most kids have an idea of what they want to do when they get older, but few have the talent and drive of a guy like McKee. From the day he invited his friend over for a play date in kindergarten, Mitchell McKee knew he wanted to be a wrestler.

McKee’s goals are much higher now than they were when he invited his friend over for a weekend play date, but big goals always have to start small.

“I invited (Mound Westonka senior) Lee Schmalz over, but his dad said he had a wrestling tournament first,” recalled McKee. “He came over afterward and he brought his trophy with him. Once I saw the trophy I knew I wanted to wrestle. I started that next Tuesday.”

When he had success at his first national tournaments, McKee knew he had a chance to get to an elite level. Watching others succeed heightened his drive.

“I started watching all the Division I championships and when Jake Deitchler was an Olympian I wanted to do that. Just seeing it first hand – as a wrestler – I wanted to do the same thing.”

View exclusive subscriber content with The Guillotine Subscription. Current subscribers log in.

Turning Dreams Into Reality – Joe Russell

By Brian Jerzak

Former Minnesota Gophers’ wrestler and assistant coach Joe Russell has seen the extreme highs and lows that wrestling and life have to offer. His wrestling life has been a series of dreams and realities. Although personally not his greatest challenge, after helping to build Minnesota into a national power, Russell took a leap of faith four years ago and took over a struggling George Mason wrestling program. Like Russell’s career, when he talks to prospective George Mason recruits he alternates between showing young men his dreams for the Patriots’ program, but also the realities.

Russell’s father was a high school wrestling coach in Idaho before the family moved to Oregon, so the future Gopher was exposed to the sport right away. He started competing as a four-year-old. He had some success early, but when Russell and his older brother were exposed to television – things changed.

“My dad didn’t think kids should watch TV – we didn’t have a TV in the house. Before the Olympics in 1976 when I was eight years old he bought a TV so we could watch the Olympics. I got to watch Jon and Ben Peterson wrestle. My brother and I wanted to be like the Peterson brothers. We told our dad we wanted to do what the Peterson brothers did. Fortunately, our dad took it seriously. He set us down and explained to us what it would take to get to that level, and we still wanted to do it.”

The dream was in place. The Russell brothers wrestling ramped up from there. Within a few years, they were wrestling year-round. Joe started to have success at a national level and by the time he was a junior in high school, he was one of the most highly coveted high school wrestlers in the nation.

That summer reality came crashing down on Russell and changed the course of his life forever.

View exclusive subscriber content with The Guillotine Subscription. Current subscribers log in.

Brotherly Advice – Nathan Rose

By Brian Jerzak

As a young kid he didn’t even want to wrestle. Now he is preparing for his senior season and a run at a third straight state championship. Sibley East 195 pounder, Nathan Rose, went from nervous about even participating in the sport to one of the best high school wrestlers, not only in Minnesota, but in the nation.

“My brothers both wrestled, but I didn’t want to,” said Rose. “I thought I was going to hurt somebody. I thought it was like WWE, but they talked me into it one year.”

Rose, who started wrestling in kindergarten, had success right away. His first year he was second in the NYWA, then two years later he started a run of three straight titles.

“When I was young I only lost a handful of times.”

View exclusive subscriber content with The Guillotine Subscription. Current subscribers log in.