Gridiron grit transfers to mat muscle

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Jasper’s Austin Buechlein wrapped up Boonville’s Caleb Pryor in the 170-pound weight class during Thursday’s wrestling match at Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium in Jasper. Buechlein is one of several Wildcat wrestlers who also play football, a pairing of sports coaches from both teams say they like. For more photos from the match, click here.


JASPER — After Zach Flynn won his match, he looked over and saw a nod of approval from his football coach, Tony Ahrens.

“Way to show that mental toughness,” Ahrens shouted from his chair by the scorer’s table Thursday night in Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium, where the Wildcats fell 46-28 to Boonville in their first even of the wrestling season.
It’s becoming more and more common to see a large group of Jasper football players also be members of the wrestling team.

For the Wildcats, 14 of the 28 wrestlers also suit up for Ahrens’ squad during the fall. For Flynn, a junior wrestling at 182 pounds, it’s the contrast of the two sports that drew him.

“Wrestling is solely individual, it’s only you out there on that mat. But in football, it’s a joint effort where if all 11 guys aren’t doing their job, then you’re not moving forward,” Flynn said. “I know wrestling is a team sport too, but when you’re on the mat, it feels like it’s just you.”

Jasper wrestling coach Jace Brescher embraces the crossover and wishes there was more of it.

“We love that football mentality in our guys. I’d like to see more of them try wrestling and I’d also like to see more of our guys go out for the football team,” Brescher said. “Football coaches push them hard. They have great attitude and that’s something we’ve loved since the beginning, we’re very proud of the attitude we’ve shown so far.”

The mental attitude is something that junior Zach Rydberg says is one of the more important parts in the sport of wrestling.

Rydberg, who weighs 193 pounds but is currently wrestling in the 220 class, said that a strong mental presence will help him while wrestling against guys just a little bit bigger than him in future matches.

“I’ve realized that both football and wrestling take a lot of heart,” said Rydberg, who plays on the defensive line on the gridiron. “Wrestling against guys bigger than you, you have to just be able to get past them and handle them. But at the end of the day, it’s who has both more skill and more heart who will win.”   

For senior Austin Buechlein, who wrestles at 170 and played both cornerback and wide receiver on the football team, his experience has helped to make him both more physical on the mat  — something he his hoping to capitalize on this season.

“(Football) just makes you so much more aggressive,” said Buechlein who was victorious over Caleb Pryor on Thursday. “It’s helped make me tougher and also has given me a stronger mental attitude. It also makes you ready to just go out there and beat someone down.”

In addition to Buechlein’s victory at 170 and Flynn’s victory at 182, the Wildcats were also winners at 152 with Noah Heim, 160 with Sam Bies and the heavyweight class with freshman Quade Popp.

Even with the loss, Brescher wasn’t disappointed in what he saw from his team. But he does see several areas for improvement.

“Boonville had a great team, maybe one of the best ones I’ve seen them have in decades,” Brescher said. “But we know we gave up way too many points by giving up pins on rounds that should’ve been decisions or majors. It gives us a good starting point on what to work on.”

The Wildcats had a large number of wrestlers who were making their varsity debuts after spending time on the JV roster last season. Brescher says with more time and more action, those guys will continue to see improvement as the season progresses.

“We have a lot of guys who haven’t been around the sport as long so their technique is still a little rusty,” Brescher said. “I think we probably depended a little too much on just strength and now we need to bring the gap more toward technique.”

Even those who have spent time on varsity still say they feel a bit rusty.

“I’m a little tired after that, I know a few of our guys are tired because they’re still cutting weight but I know we need to condition a little more,” Flynn said. “I know (Tony Ahrens) is watching to make sure I’m conditioned right. If I’m not conditioned right, he’ll make sure of that (laughs).”

While having your football coach watching your wrestle may stress some people out, for Rydberg it gave him an extra sense of motivation to do better in the next meet.

“It gives you a little pressure but he knows that you win some and you lose some,” Rydberg said. “(Ahrens) is honestly the biggest role model you can have out there.”

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