Thursday, November 23, 2017 Elyria 33°


Prep wrestling preview: Elyria excelling with athletes dedicated to the sport


Say you wake up one morning with a pain in your foot so bad you can`t even put weight on it. Do you think you`d be better served making an appointment with the family doctor or heading directly to a podiatrist?

While the general practitioner has a wide range of medical knowledge, your chance of getting superior service from the specialist is more likely because the podiatrist deals with feet all the time.

The same principle helps explain how a high school athlete can become an elite competitor in his sport, and why the Elyria Pioneers will have one of the toughest wrestling programs in the state this season.

"In this day and age of specialization, working smart comes into play," Pioneers coach Erik Burnett said. "You have to use your time wisely. I like to see a two-sport star. I like to see a kid that plays football and wrestles, and excels in both of them. That kid is probably very time efficient.

"It`s nice when kids are involved in more than one sport. That being said, the kids that commit to wrestling have done much better."

Burnett knows because he made that commitment as a wrestler at Oberlin High in the mid-1980s and earned four state championships. He has also watched countless athletes try a variety of paths to the top, and knows what has worked and what has failed.

The Pioneers roster is filled with athletes who have decided for various reasons to make the year-long commitment to wrestling. The two most notable athletes are senior 112-pounder Steve Mitcheff and junior 145-pounder Zach Goins, both of whom placed fifth last season in the Division I state tournament.

"Wrestling`s a 24-hour sport," Goins said. "You have to be on your game 24 hours a day. That doesn`t just mean inside the (wrestling) room, also outside it - watching your weight, keeping up with your studies, running, lifting weights - doing whatever you can to get you to that next level."

Burnett used the phrase "working smart" several times, saying the sport has evolved since his high school days when he used to run 6 miles a day in sunshine, rain or snow.

"I just went over and beyond," Burnett said. "I did more than anybody else. Maybe I didn`t work smart back then, but I pretty much outworked everybody else. But that`s because I had a passion.

"Today, coaches put the time in to research and figure out what techniques are going to best work for their kids. Everybody can`t become successful the same way."

That doesn`t mean you don`t hear the same answers from most wrestlers when asking them how they`ve become one of the top-tier competitors in the sport. A good diet, running, lifting weights, hitting the mats with other great wrestlers are all answers that pour out of the mouths of the Pioneers.

"I`ll lift two days a week and the other two I`ll just run or shadow-wrestle in my back room," junior 130-pounder Dalton McHenry said about his offseason training. "It`s all about dedication. You really have to want it."

But the offseason activity that seems to be the most popular among the high school wrestling elite is the trekking across the country to compete in every tournament possible. The Pioneers took part in the Disney Duals in Orlando, Fla., the national championships in Fargo, N.D., the Junior Olympics, the Super 32, tons of freestyle state tournaments - the list goes on and on.

"Too many to count," McHenry said when asked how many events he wrestled in.

"Last year, I was really mild with where I went, especially with my shoulder," said Goins, who rehabbed a separated shoulder during the middle of the season. "The year before, though, I was everywhere. I went to Ocean City for the folk-style duals, I went to the Disney Duals, I went to the Junior Olympics - I was everywhere."

What do the athletes do between the summer tournaments? They attend wrestling camps - like the one Burnett and his family run at All-American Wrestling in Grafton.

"I probably attended four this year," Mitcheff said. "At the camps it`s usually all day, from like 7 in the morning until about 9 at night."

Coaching is another crucial component in a wrestler rising to the top and the Pioneers are blessed with a staff that knows the sport inside and out. Scott Burnett - Erik`s younger brother who won three state titles at Elyria Catholic - joined the Pioneers near the end of last season and will be another source from which the wrestlers can draw energy and experience.

"A lot of people say that our enthusiasm, in general, my brother and myself and the whole coaching staff, is what people like," Scott said. "The parents like the fact that we`re into it. When guys aren`t performing, we let them know. We may raise our voice and tell them to pick it up. When they do things well, we let them know that also."

The Pioneers have responded to the various forms of instruction they get from their coaches, and dig in with a tenacity that Erik Burnett summed up nicely.

"Passion," he said. "My parents tried to ensure that I had a passion for something. I just want my kids to be passionate about something. That`s what we try to instill in the wrestlers here. Wrestling`s a hard sport and if you`re not passionate about it, it could be a little rough."

Though it would be argued that passion can`t be measured, the Pioneer wrestlers believe that passion is the fuel that drives them to their No. 1 goal - winning.

"I`m only having fun when I get my hand raised," Goins said.

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or

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