By David Pan Weekly Herald sports editor
EDMONDS — It’s no secret that the success of the Edmonds-Woodway football team this season can be attributed in large part to its ground game.
Junior running back Desmond Young rushed for 1,417 yards and senior running back Mark Coutee had 932 yards to help propel the Warriors into the state playoffs for the first time since 2007. Young and Coutee would be the first to credit their offensive line for their yardage.
A lot goes into developing a strong, cohesive offensive line. And for Edmonds-Woodway, some of the hard work took place off the gridiron in a totally different environment: on wrestling mats.
The football team’s season may have ended with a 42-7 loss to No. 1 ranked Bellarmine Prep on Nov. 12, but for about 17 varsity players, including many linemen, there was little time to sit back and take it easy. Wrestling practice started the following Monday.
Among the linemen currently out for wrestling are center Sam Song, guard Jack McCole, tackle Jordan Barnes and tight ends Kris Delaney and Robbie Willcock.
“I think wrestling is the perfect counterpart or supplementary sport to football,” Song said. “It just makes you a better athlete.”
Edmonds-Woodway football staff members certainly are believers. Head coach John Gradwohl and line coaches Andrew Hershey and Brandon Torrey encourage their players to wrestle.
“They really want their kids out there,” Edmonds-Woodway wrestling coach Brian Alfi said.
Alfi, who also is an assistant coach with the freshman football team, noted that the skills developed in the wrestling room help individuals become better football players.
It is important for linemen to have a low center of gravity, he noted.
“When you’re wrestling you understand your body awareness – where you put your hands and staying low,” Alfi said. “All those things translate to the football field and blocking as an offensive lineman. You have an amazing understanding of body awareness, so when you go back out there you have a higher level than the guy in front of you.”
Song also appreciated how wrestling helped him with his conditioning and his mental toughness.
“In wrestling you get really tired easily, but you have to keep going 100 percent,” Song said. “If you can last a whole wrestling season, it reveals a lot of strength and character.
Barnes initially wasn’t going to wrestle last year, but Gradwohl encouraged him to consider the sport. Barnes is glad he took his coach’s advice.
“It helps a lot with hand-fighting and tackling and all-around good form,” Barnes said. “I understand the way the body works.”
Delaney saw his agility improve as a result of wrestling.
“It gets your footwork better,” he said. “It gets you tougher, leaner. It turns your body fat into muscle. It just overall makes you a better football player. That’s really what got me into it, getting in shape for the season.”
Wrestling turned out to be totally different than any of the other sports Delaney played in the past.
“This is a sport that comes down to your overall performance,” Delaney said. “If you don’t perform well, you’re letting yourself down. You’re letting your team down. But overall it’s on you. How hard you work reflects on how well you do during the season individually.”
While the physical benefits of wrestling are quite evident, Alfi said that just being committed to another sport for three months makes athletes better.
“They’re working hard for three months,” he said. “They’re committed to getting better. They’re committed to their goals and they’re motivated for something bigger than themselves.”
It’s also nice to get a little recognition, said Alfi, noting that often the offensive line doesn’t garner much attention.
“You’re not getting the rushing yards,” he said. “You’re in the trenches. … A lot of times it’s easy to go unnoticed.”
Former Edmonds-Woodway football player Ryan Brown, an all-league offensive lineman, also happened to be a good wrestler.
“After he won his first match, he said, ‘This is great. You get your hand raised,’” Alfi recalled.