Starters know value of wrestling backups

Allison Younge

Many 150-pound wrestlers would dread the thought of meeting Gophers junior Chad Kraft on the mat. A two-time All-American, Kraft is undefeated at 13-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation.
While encountering Kraft happens once a year for most of his opponents, wrestling against the nation’s best has become a routine for Gophers junior Jesse Krebs. This season marks the third year that Kraft and Krebs have battled as workout partners in practice. For three years Kraft has highlighted Minnesota’s dual meets, while Krebs has rooted from the sidelines.
“It’s good to see the guys ahead of you do well, because you feel like you did something right — like you helped make them better,” Krebs said.
A backup middleweight, Krebs doesn’t put on a maroon and gold singlet regularly for the Gophers on weekends. He doesn’t get a flood of interview and autograph requests following Minnesota’s matches. But Krebs doesn’t let the lack of attention get to him. Bitterness and jealousy have no place in his game plan.
“You want to wrestle, you want to be the guy out there, but when your teammate ends up doing well you get to choose. Either you can be mad because you’re not out there, or happy for him because he’s doing well. I’ve taken the role that I’m happy for the guys when they do well.”
That’s the attitude he and the other nine Gophers backups have to have.
Krebs, his younger brother Josh Krebs (134 pounds), Brent Boeshans (HWT), Delaney Berger (167 pounds), Ty Friederichs (134 pounds), Kenny Howard (177 pounds), Tim Kinsella (158 pounds), Eddie Pak (150 pounds), Brad Pike (150 pounds) and Bart Golyer (126 pounds) wait for their chance to break into the starting lineup, filling crucial roles on and off the mat.
“These are the people that the starters can relate to and get support (from) and actually believe what they’re saying,” Gophers coach J Robinson said, “because they’re not just hustling them or being rah-rah positive. They are the backbone of the whole team.”
During the Gophers’ matches, the backups appear in street clothes — unrecognizable as Minnesota wrestlers to the average spectator, but readily acknowledged by their starting teammates.
“They are just as much a part of this as we are,” Gophers 134-pounder Troy Marr said. “They’re always there everyday pushing us. There’s no way we could compete without them.”
With five weeks until the Big Ten Championships, normal two-a-day practices have intensified for the third-ranked Gophers. While the starters look forward to competing in conference and national tournaments this season, everyone needs to be prepared.
For Krebs, the motivation is simple.
“I just love wrestling,” he said. “Yeah, it’s hard, yeah it’s tough and sometimes it isn’t fun, but it’s the love and what you learn from it — as far as work ethic and discipline and everything else.”
Robinson said he thinks that concept is important for every member on the team to understand. Whether they’re nationally ranked starters or awaiting an opportunity, the lessons in life that the Gophers wrestlers are gaining will be useful in the future.
“The work ethic that these guys are learning is very hard — practicing twice a day and holding their weight down,” Robinson said. “What they’re doing is practicing discipline, sacrifice and dedication. Some of these guys won’t be All-Americans, or they won’t be starters, but they’ll have something that will make them successful their whole life.”
The lessons learned are as consistent as the battles during practice. After a match, competitive roles fade and the Minnesota team — starters, backups and redshirts — unites.
“Ten or 15 years from now the medals won’t be important, the All-American status won’t be important; what will be important are the relationships that were created,” Robinson said. “In the end, that’s what will bond these guys together.”
Note: Because of Minnesota’s loss to Iowa on Jan. 23, the Gophers fell to third in the latest National Wrestling Coaches Association team rankings. Oklahoma State holds the top position, followed by second-ranked Iowa.