Need more proof that football players should be wrestling?

Posted on Nov 29, 2010 in Practices, Technique, Wrestlers

Going Deep: Ravens’ Ray Lewis and Kelly Gregg use wrestling background to succeed in the NFL

JEREMY ELLIOTT, The Patriot-News

Ray Lewis’ eyes were like saucers. He wore the look of a warrior.

But Lewis wasn’t sizing up a tight end going over the middle. He wasn’t trying to dislodge a running back from the ball. The Baltimore Ravens all-world linebacker wasn’t even on the field of play, nor was he talking about football.

Decked out in gray sweat pants and a black University of Miami sweatshirt, Lewis was clearly intense when speaking about a sport close to his heart, one that he says has made him the ferocious and technically sound NFL player he is today: wrestling.

“That has been my key for a long time,” said Lewis, who won the Florida state title at 189 pounds in 1993 while at Kathleen High School in Lakeland. “Wrestling is still one of the reasons why I swivel my hips; it’s been everything for me.

“The principles that you learn in wrestling, none of that changes. It carries over, and if you stick to those things, the low man always wins.”

Lewis isn’t alone.

The number of past and present pro football players who have a high school or college wrestling background is sizable. It includes Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott, Bruce Smith and Larry Csonka, former Pro Bowl players such as Bo Jackson and Tony Siragusa and current players Roddy White, Adam Vinatieri and former Cedar Cliff standout Coy Wire. Former Cedar Cliff star Steve Sefter was an all-America wrestler at Penn State and a defensive end on Joe Paterno’s first national championship football team.

Other NFL stars, such as former Pittsburgh guard Carlton Haselrig — who won six NCAA titles, three in Division I and three in Division II — and current New England guard Stephen Neal, a two-time NCAA champ from Cal Bakersfield, didn’t play football in college but made the transition to the rugged NFL trenches.

For Lewis, this elite fraternity extends across the locker room. Ravens nose tackle Kelly Gregg, winner of three straight Oklahoma state heavyweight titles while at Edmond Memorial and then Edmond North High School from 1993 to 1995, knows the benefits wrestling has had on his football career.

“There are a lot of good wrestlers that come through here,” Gregg said. “Honestly, I don’t think I would still be playing now if it wasn’t for my wrestling background.”

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