‘It’s time to wrestle’: Carroll County football stars make quick transition as wrestling grind picks up

‘It’s time to wrestle’: Carroll County football stars make quick transition as wrestling grind picks up

It has been a busy month and a half for Winters Mill’s Victor Tejada.

Fresh off a football season in which the sophomore excelled in the trenches for the Falcons en route to the program’s best record and a trip to the state quarterfinals, Tejada had to switch his focus to his next sport just days after his fall season ended.

“After the loss, it was hard,” he said. “But I knew that I could only focus on it for a day or two because it’s time for wrestling.”

Tejada is just one of several football players countywide making the quick transition from football to wrestling as the 2023 winter season gets underway. While some skills translate, coaches and players work hard to reintegrate their athletes physically and mentally as the county’s best prepare for the grind ahead.

“We take these kids, who just came from a grueling football season and try our hardest to catch them up,” Liberty wrestling coach Joe Zaccagnini said. “It’s quite the task but luckily we have the athletes who are built for it.”

A big part of the transition: conditioning. When Tejada finally reported to the Winters Mill wrestling room, coach Lou Orem had him running early and often. A big difference between the two sports is the amount of rest a player might have.

“In football, there’s some time in between plays to catch your breath and regain yourself,” Tejada said. “In wrestling, you’re full speed ahead from the opening whistle. Your conditioning has to be top notch.”

Zaccagnini and the Lions have been working since November, the meat of the football season. With football players like Kevin Poole and Kevin Kern rejoining the team shortly after the Lions’ playoff game, the pair, like many other in the county, had quite the adjustment. Some went from being hunted as running backs and receivers to hunters looking for takedowns and pins.

“We eased them in,” Zaccagnini said. “We had them working more individually and doing conditioning just to get them up to speed. We wanted to get them ready as soon as possible.”

Poole has made the quick adjustment with ease so far, going 7-1 with six pins at last weekend’s Husky Duals, where the Lions picked up wins against Dulaney, Winston Churchill, Hammond, Glen Burnie, Bohemia Manor, North East, Dundalk and Broadneck to earn the team championship.

“He got a total of 11 takedowns,” Zaccagnini said. “Kevin is so athletic and explosive that he uses that to take his opponents down.”

Westminster vs Liberty football – Ravens RISE

Liberty's Kevin Poole runs the ball in front of Westminstter's Conner Hereth during a football game at Liberty High School on October 20, 2023.

Thomas Walker/for Carroll County Times

Liberty’s Kevin Poole rushed for 438 yards and six touchdowns during the regular season for the Lions. (Thomas Walker/For Carroll County Times)

Kern has also been really good for the Lions, matching Poole with a 7-1 record of his own, winning with a pin every time.

Coaches also noted the change in mindset wrestlers have to go through as they transition sports.

While many consider football to be the ultimate team sport, wrestling is man vs. man, each person fighting for supremacy and the ability to bring a win home and earn points for their team during a dual.

“Wrestlers are very hard on themselves,” Zaccagnini said. “If we win a dual as a team but they lost their match or get pinned, they might be in their own head a little bit because they feel they didn’t contribute.”

Despite the differences within the two sports, football coaches want wrestlers and wrestling coaches want football players. A lot of the skills from both sports translate, and coaches know that mastering certain skills can make a player dangerous at both sports.

“I’m in constant communication with [Liberty football coach Larry Luthe] and he’s noted how some of the wrestlers have better foot speed and are lighter on their feet after a year or two of wrestling,” Zaccagnini said. “We really work with each other to develop a well-rounded athlete that can excel at both sports.”

Athletes such as Tejada use the new season as a fresh start to not only participate in the sport they love but an opportunity to finish even stronger for their school than they did in the fall.

“In football we fell short but we had a lot to be proud of because of how far we made it,” Tejada said. “Now is a chance in a new sport with a new team and reach states again. It’s time to wrestle.”

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