With lacrosse season on the horizon, Casey Rogers and his Avon Prep School teammates in Connecticut assessed the daunting conditioning sessions ahead of them.
Rogers had heard rumors regarding how much running the team would be put through. However, Rogers was coming off arguably the toughest test of his young athletic career ― wrestling.
“The first couple of practices, kids were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is terrible, this is the worst,'” Rogers said. “I was like, ‘Guys, this isn’t even that hard. Go wrestle for a year! That’s hard!'”
The grueling wrestling season Rogers undertook this winter for the first time in his life already is paying dividends for the incoming Huskers’ defensive end.
“The one thing that our coach said at the beginning of the year was, ‘Once you wrestle, everything else is easy,'” Rogers said. “And I believe that 100 percent.”
Rogers’ season finished about two weeks ago at the New England Championship match, where he finished fifth. The performance was good enough to qualify for the national tournament meet, but Rogers could not attend because of a school conflict.
Wrestling was all new to Rogers. He gained an appreciation for the sport and the athletes who participate in it.
“I wish I did it for life,” Rogers said. “That’s for sure.”
Rogers’ father, Lelan, was a successful wrestler in high school and college as a multi-sport athlete. Rogers, a former lacrosse prospect, said it was cool to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Wrestling helped Rogers immensely both physically and mentally, he said. Wrestling in the heavyweight division, he competed against opponents who often were 30 to 50 pounds heavier than him.
“I think the thing wrestling teaches you the most is how to deal with [adversity],” Rogers said. “Because when you’re on the mat, it’s just you out there. There’s no one else to be out there with. If you mess up, it’s on you, it’s not on anyone else.”
In the ring, Rogers said he learned personal accountability because there’s no room for rest or mistakes. Focus is key. Execution is essential. Mental capacity is pushed to the limited.
That all relates to football in the way Rogers pictures himself as the defensive end. His opponent was like a tackle protecting the quarterback or paving the way for a tailback.
“It’s you versus him,” Rogers said. “It’s a ‘I want it more than you,’ type of attitude. That’s one thing you have to have. I think it’s something I definitely have. I knew I had it before I wrestled. But I really caught it when I was in wrestling and in the moments when it came down to the wire.”
Rogers likened the third period of a wrestling match to the fourth quarter of a football game. Whichever team wants it more will come out on top.
There have been several physical benefits to wrestling. It has helped with his technique and hands usage. The sport gave Rogers a better understanding of putting himself into a position from which he can execute a move. His body now knows where it needs to be to put a move on a blocker. Hand-on-hand contact and wrist control are secondary benefits.
The ability to stay low also has improved because of wrestling, he said. The low man always wins is the old adage. Rogers said he noticed on film that he stood up when tired. But by the end of the season, he stayed low throughout the match.
“After I caught that, I was able to execute moves a lot better,” he said.
Rogers said he thought he’d pass out in the middle of his first match. But he made it to the end. It was his first taste of mental fortitude on the mat.
“I think there’s a lot of times in football where you’re like, ‘Damn, I don’t know if I’ll be able to get through this guy, I don’t know if I’ll be able to get through this tackle or this guard, or this double team.’ But you do,” Rogers said. “The one thing I picked up most, is that if you want to, you can do it.”
Rogers’ wrestling experience has changed him for good, he said.
“There’s lessons I’ve learned from wrestling that will go with me for life,” Rogers said. “I’m definitely thankful I wrestled.”