The Wrestling Con Job

By Brian Jerzak

Before his junior year, Quad County’s Bryce Schmidt had only played football and baseball. He had never even set foot on a wrestling mat. By the end of his senior year, he was walking out on the floor of the Xcel Energy Center in the state tournament. His unlikely journey might never have happened if Schmidt wasn’t conned into trying wrestling.

“My friends who encouraged me to wrestle played football and they were going to take this picture,” Schmidt said. “They told me to come be in the picture. I didn’t know what it was about, so I just did it. They called it the Wrestling Pic. It was all the wrestlers who played football and me. They said, ‘you are in that picture, so you have to join wrestling now’; I got conned into that.”

Schmidt went along with his friends but had almost zero exposure to wrestling before the winter of his junior year.

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You Can’t Take Wrestling Out of the Wrestler

By Brian Jerzak

You can take the wrestler out of the wrestling room, but . . .

As a senior in high school, Ron McClure placed fourth in the state tournament for Hopkins. A few years later as a senior at Minnesota-Duluth he would find himself in the Division II national title match. His second place finish would cap off a two-time All-American career and years later a place in the UMD Athletic Hall of Fame.

After nearly twenty straight years of constant wrestling, McClure needed to step away from the sport he loved, but not away from athletics. He found himself back in a gym coaching, but nowhere near a wrestling room. He spent nineteen years coaching girls’ gymnastics, a sport – going into it – he knew very little about. McClure was able to become an effective gymnastic coach by leaning on his wrestling knowledge and learning how the two sports complement each other. After nearly twenty years coaching gymnastics, he decided to step away from that sport. Now McClure has come full circle. You can take the wrestler out of the wrestling room, but you can’t take wrestling out of the wrestler.

If not for his mother, McClure might have ended up in the ring instead of the wrestling mat.

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Lloyd Versus Robb

A championship match and a friendship years in the making

By Brian Jerzak

Shakopee’s Alex Lloyd and Owatonna’s Peyton Robb have come full circle. As the clock wound down in the 145AAA individual finals, Robb held a one-point lead over Lloyd. With under a minute to go in the third, Lloyd hit a takedown and was able to ride out Robb for the final few seconds to win the title. For both juniors, the match was bittersweet. After the referee had put Lloyd’s hand in the air, both wrestlers embraced in the center of the Xcel Energy Center – possibly for the last time in competition.

The first time they wrestled each other they were in elementary school. It would become the first of many times the two would lock horns in competition and in the practice room. Shortly after their first meeting, they would become training partners and best friends.

“The first time I met him it was at an elementary school tournament,” Robb said. “He won a one-point match.”

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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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Getting Back on the Mat – Brady Berge

By Brian Jerzak

By the end of the 2016 State Wrestling Tournament, there were two names on the mind of every wrestling fan in attendance. For good reason, Apple Valley’s six-time champion Mark Hall – no matter what was going to be the story of the tournament, but the tournament experience of a guy who ultimately placed sixth would grab a fair share of the drama.

Brady Berge’s team, the Kasson-Mantorville KoMets had already taken home the Class AA state title on day one of the tournament and the junior – hands down the favorite to win gold in the AA 160-pound weight class had rolled through the first two rounds of the individual tournament with a pin and a tech fall. As his semifinal match started, it looked like the three-time state champion was on his way to the finals again.

“Before the match, I was calm – like I usually am before matches,” Berge recalled. “The first period I took him down and turned him a couple of times. I had like a 7-2 lead going into the second period. It was my choice and like I do every other match when I have choice I chose down. I stood up to get an escape, and I went to turn, and my foot caught the mat, and I came down on it. It just bent in a way it shouldn’t have. There was a lot of weight going down on it too so it snapped. I knew it was broken right away.”

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Never Playing It Safe

By Brian Jerzak

Ryan Duffy doesn’t believe in going half speed. The three-sport star for the South St. Paul Packers has his athletic and college path mapped out, and it doesn’t involve wrestling – in which he has advanced to the state tournament four times. It doesn’t involve playing quarterback, defensive back or wide receiver which he did for the state runner-up Packers’ football team. His future involves a scholarship to pitch for the Minnesota Gophers’ baseball team.

With a guaranteed scholarship to play for a program that just advanced to the Division I College World Series, it would be easy for Duffy to put aside wrestling and football and concentrate on his ticket to a free college education. Many people might even encourage the left-handed pitcher to put aside the cleats and singlet, play it safe and focus on baseball. People who would say that do not know Ryan Duffy. They don’t know Duffy doesn’t believe in playing it safe.

“I don’t want to let my teammates down,” Duffy said. “I have unfinished business in two sports where I was runner up. I plan to hang up everything and be on top when I am done. If I didn’t play, I would be letting my teammates down. That is not something I want to do as a player or as a friend. I couldn’t imagine giving up one of my sports when I still have an opportunity to play them right now, just because of my future.”

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Family, Farming and Wrestling – The Carlson Legacy in Willmar

By Brian Jerzak

Family and wrestling go together like ice cream and apple pie. All across the state of Minnesota, the wrestling landscape is littered with families steeped in wrestling history. The Short family, the Morgan family, the Thorn and the Ness families, just to name a few, have produced multiple high-level wrestlers. They are families that get the sport of wrestling in their blood, and it never gets out.

The connection between wrestling and family is similar to the connection between family and farming. Generations of families work family farms. Often the home and farm are passed down from one generation to the next. Once farming gets in a family’s blood, like wrestling, it is hard to get it out.

Few families in Minnesota encapsulate the strong bond between family, farming and wrestling more than the Carlson family from Willmar.

“Our dad (Curtney) wrestled for Willmar back in the 1950’s,” Chad Carlson said, “and graduated from Willmar High School in 1957. He got us started in it. It wasn’t like he was pushing us one way or the other, but I think he thought it would be a good thing to get us into.”

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