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Wrestling shaped Mike Zimmer and the Minnesota Vikings’ draft.

January 24th, 2018 by Tom

Wrestling VikingThe Minnesota Vikings headed into the NFL draft needing to bolster the middle of their offensive and defensive lines. It's probably no coincidence that two of the players they targeted were standouts in the sport that coach Mike Zimmer has called the toughest thing he's ever done.

Ohio State center Pat Elflein and Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson -- whom the Vikings picked in the third and fourth round, respectively -- were standout wrestlers in high school before they became Big Ten opponents. Elflein was a state and national tournament qualifier his senior year as a heavyweight at Pickerington North High School just outside Columbus, Ohio, while Johnson went 21-3 as a junior at St. Joseph's High School outside Chicago.

The parallels between wrestling and line play in football are obvious -- "What it taught me, really, was where to place your hands as far as whether you should be inside or outside, pad level. It really taught me good leverage as far as getting a good bend in the hips," Johnson said -- and a wrestling background carries a certain seal of quality in the eyes of Vikings scouts.

"Immediately in my mind, [when I hear a player was a wrestler,] I think, 'This guy has incredible toughness and balance.'" Vikings scouting director Jamaal Stephenson said. "Especially for offensive line and defensive line, that is a critical attribute you want to have. So I just think, especially if they were good at it, that this guy was pretty tough and has pretty good balance."

Zimmer was an all-conference wrestler for Lockport (Ill.) High School in the 1970s, where his father, Bill, was both his football and wrestling coach. "That was the hardest thing [I did]," he said last year. "It was just tough. You had to be physical. You cut weight, you're in there and you're just grinding. It's just you and [your opponent]."

The lessons Zimmer learned from the sport helped shape him as a football coach. He knows firsthand what it demands of an athlete: self-discipline, intestinal fortitude and an imperviousness to pain. A sport that requires that much of a young man, then, also speaks rather loudly to Zimmer about what kind of a football player he is.

"These guys, when you go out there and you’re battling three periods and it’s man-on-man, not only is it a lot about technique and competition and you against him, but it’s also about balance and body control," Zimmer said. "At the end of the day, it comes down to a lot about, 'I’m going to whip his butt, or he’s going to whip mine.'"

That eat-or-be-eaten mentality sounds like a pretty good primer for life in the NFL.

"What I did in wrestling, I feel like that correlated a lot with the game of football," Johnson said.

via ESPN

Cole Konrad Tries Out for Minnesota Vikings

May 13th, 2009 by Tom

Add Cole Konrad's name to the list of former top college wrestlers who want to play in the NFL.

The two-time NCAA heavyweight champ for the University of Minnesota in 2006 and 2007 tried out for the Minnesota Vikings in April.

Konrad, who hasn't played organized football since he was a high school freshman, was granted the opportunity to meet with the organization, and was put through a brief set of drills for offensive linemen.

In an article originally published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Konrad's college wrestling coach, J Robinson, is quoted as saying, "What I heard is someone from the Vikings grabbed a tackling dummy, held it up and told Cole, 'Go ahead, hit me as hard as you can.' And Cole knocked the guy right on his butt."

The former Golden Gopher heavyweight was a bit more modest in his account to the Star-Tribune. "I knocked the guy back quite a ways, and the dummy flew up in the air," said Konrad, a four-time NCAA All-American on the mat for Minnesota. "I think that was the deciding factor in the long run."

Whatever happened at the Vikings' Winter Park training facility, it earned Konrad an invitation to come back for a three-day rookie mini-camp, held this past weekend.

It's not Cole Konrad's first taste of an NFL mini-camp. In 2007, the 6'3" wrestling champ "who now reportedly tips the scale at a hefty 315 pounds "was invited to the New York Jets rookie camp along with Tommy Rowlands, a two-time NCAA heavyweight champ for Ohio State in 2003 and 2005.

In talking about his April tryout with the Vikings, Konrad said, "They said they'd like to try me as a guard. And they want me to get comfortable snapping the ball, in case they want to try me at center. I've been doing that. I'll do anything they want."

Konrad and Rowlands aren't the only veterans of the college mat to test their mettle on the football field. In late April, it was reported that 2009 NCAA All-American heavyweight Jermail Porter of Kent State University was about to sign a contract with the New England Patriots. Porter will join one of the more successful big men of amateur wrestling, Stephen Neal, a two-time NCAA heavyweight champ at Cal State Bakersfield in 1998-1999, and 1999 world freestyle champ, who has played right guard for the Patriots since 2001.

A couple years ago, another NCAA heavyweight champ for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Brock Lesnar, tried out for the Vikings as a defensive lineman, and even played a couple games before being cut by the team.

Cole Konrad, a friend and workout partner of Lesnar's, has talked to the current UFC heavyweight champ about his experience with the Vikings"¦ and weighed that against his expectations for a possible NFL career. "I just feel that offensive line is more similar to wrestling," said Konrad. "There's a lot of the same hand fighting for position, using leverage and stuff like that on the offensive line. What I'm trying to do is more like what Stephen Neal did in New England."

It's too early to predict what kind of future Cole Konrad might have in the NFL. However, he might find himself joining an elite group of former NCAA wrestling champs such as Jack Riley, Art Baker, Jim Nance, Sherwyn Thorson, Curley Culp, Carlton Haselrig and Stephen Neal who found success moving from grappling to the pro gridiron.