In a second-floor office overlooking the football field on which he produced Zachary’s first state championship team, coach David Brewerton marvels at another title hanging on a wall.
It’s a photo. Brewerton, an 18-year-old Catholic High heavyweight wrestler has just shot a double-leg takedown, lifting Acadiana’s John Charles high into the air in 1992 at Jesuit High School. Brewerton won the match 9-6, becoming the team’s fourth state champion.
He howls in laughter, vividly remembering the entire season in the dingy, cramped wrestling room that’s since been demolished.
“When I face hard times, when I have something going on in my life that’s not positive, I think back to those days in the room,” Brewerton said. “I went through that. I can get this done; this is nothing compared to what I went through in that room.”
Twenty-one miles away, in another room high above a championship football field, Catholic nose guard KJ Wilson swims his hands for position. He gets it, dropping for his opponent’s legs, his prize not the tackle of a ball carrier but a two-point, double-leg takedown during the Bears wrestling practice.
Nearly two weeks ago, Wilson employed those techniques in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where the Bears won the school’s first state football title. Linebacker Denver Dennison, who finishes a high leg takedown a few feet away, did the same.
“We’ll have big guys coming down on us and you can’t just sit there and play with them,” Dennison said. “They’re 50-100 pounds bigger than you are. You’ve got to move quick, be explosive, use your hips. All that is directly related to what we do on the mat. It transfers 100 percent. It all goes hand in hand to being a defensive player.”
Wilson and Dennison are two of 13 Catholic football players who wrestle. Their transition is immediate — both practiced the Monday after their 31-28 win against Rummel.
“It’s like hell,” Wilson says of the first practice. “You’re in football shape, but once you come to wrestling it’s all different. (You’re) working different muscles and more muscles than you would in football.”
Since he’s begun coaching, Brewerton has seen more football players wrestle, but is still worried that preconceived notions make others wary.
“Wrestling scares football coaches. Big-time,” Brewerton said. “It’s a stigma that the wrestling coaches make the kids lose weight, first of all. And second, it’s not on TV, it’s not a sport that’s heavily advertised and it’s unbelievably difficult. A lot of people can’t handle going to those practices every day and doing what it takes to be good.”
So Brewerton tells his fellow head coaches of his positive experience with the sport — both as an athlete and coach.
In his time as an assistant coach at Redemptorist under Sid Edwards, an 80-person wrestling team facilitated football prominence. Only 10 of his Zachary players wrestled in his first season, a number he’s hoping to increase to 40 this offseason.
There’s a teammate from that 1992 season helping Brewerton. Longtime Catholic wrestling coach Tommy Prochaska talks to the freshman football team each season, asking if the players know all about Ray Lewis, Roddy White or Brian Urlacher.
All respond with their NFL prowess. Prochaska tells them they’re wrong; they were all high school wrestlers. Still, some are hesitant. The allure of college football recruitment and how it may impact their size is at the forefront of their mind.
“You don’t have to lose weight,” Prochaska says. “Will you lose weight? Yes because you’re becoming more active than you were on a football field. The average (football) play is five seconds and in practice it’s 12 seconds. You’re going to be active (in wrestling), you’re going to lose weight, and it’s actually good weight to lose because then you come back in a month, hit the weight room hard and get stronger.”
There’s at least one prominent college football recruiter that actively seeks wrestlers. LSU coach Les Miles was an undefeated dual meet wrestler at Elyria High School, losing only to a “pain in the tail” eventual state champion.
Both of Miles’ sons, Manny and Ben, wrestled as kids. Miles, a former offensive lineman, can even spot wrestlers watching recruits’ film.
“It got my hands alive in football,” Miles said. “Gives leverage, creates great grip strength. Some wrestlers do not initiate contact as comfortably. If the wrestler initiates contact, then I can see a rough and rugged man and you can tell (he was a wrestler).”