Still Invitation Only, but Jets Widen Door for Camp Sign In to E-Mail or Save This Print Reprints Share DiggFacebookNewsvinePermalink
By KAREN CROUSE Published: May 13, 2007 HEMPSTEAD, N.Y., May 12 — The Jets coach who was conducting the position meeting Saturday kept referring to Will, Mike and Sam, and every time he did, Cole Konrad felt more lost, like someone trying to follow a conversation about Tony, Paulie and Christopher despite having never watched “The Sopranos.”
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Stephen Chernin/Associated Press Cole Konrad, a freestyle wrestler, is participating in the Jets’ three-day rookie/free agent camp this weekend.
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Randy Moss a Mistake for the Patriots? Go to the Fifth Down Blog » Konrad, one of eight offensive linemen invited to the Jets’ rookie/free agent camp, eventually turned to the player seated next to him and asked who this Mike guy was, which is how he came to learn the football terminology for middle linebacker.
“I just have to ask,” Konrad said, “even if I feel dumb doing it.”
Konrad, who was recently named the University of Minnesota’s male athlete of the year, is a freestyle wrestler who is ranked No. 2 in the United States in the 264.5-pound division, according to USA Wrestling. He has not played football since an undistinguished stint on the offensive line of his freshman team in high school.
The top-ranked American in Konrad’s weight class is Tommy Rowlands, a four-time all-American at Ohio State who is now an assistant coach for the Buckeyes’ wrestling team. Rowlands, who defeated Konrad in the final of the United States National Championships last month in Las Vegas, is Konrad’s roommate here this weekend. He received an invitation to try out at linebacker.
Addressing reporters before practice Saturday while wearing an Ohio State wrestling T-shirt, Rowlands said he was floored by the Jets’ interest in him. “I didn’t believe it,” he said. “I’m training for the Olympics right now. My mind was on completely different things.”
Jets Coach Eric Mangini has a soft spot for these rock-hard wrestlers, and not only because he dabbled in the sport in high school. He watched Steve Neal, a world-class wrestler, become a productive guard for the New England Patriots. Mangini also was among the first to encourage Ben Graham, the Jets’ punter, to make the switch from Australian Rules Football to the N.F.L.
Mangini is a big believer that all successful athletes share certain traits that transcend their sports-specific skill sets. Which explains why, in addition to Konrad and Rowlands, the Jets invited Jesse Pellot-Rosa, a guard on the Virginia Commonwealth basketball team that upset Duke in the first round of this year’s N.C.A.A. tournament, to the camp as a wide receiver. In all, 51 players, including the four players in this year’s draft class, are participating in the three-day camp.
“Whether it be wrestlers, basketball players, track athletes, Australian Rules football players, whoever it is,” Mangini said, “if they have a good work ethic, intelligence, the things that we look for, then it’s our job to teach them and their job to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Konrad, a two-time N.C.A.A. wrestling champion, was at the United States Olympic training center in Colorado, preparing for next month’s world championship trials, when he received a telephone call from the Jets. “It caught me off guard completely,” he said, adding, “It was a compliment to be asked, so I thought I would take advantage of it.”
Rowlands, who also won two N.C.A.A. titles, has not played football since the eighth grade. So when he retrieved a message Thursday asking him to call Brendan Prophett, the Jets’ assistant director for pro scouting, he assumed it was a prank.
Just for kicks, he called the number Prophett had left and got the Jets’ offices. “If someone’s pranking me,” Rowlands remembered thinking, “they’re going to great lengths to make it work.”
After talking to Prophett, Rowlands boarded a plane from Ohio to New York the next day. But first, Rowlands and his wife, Elizabeth, had to postpone the baptism of their 4 ½-month-old daughter, which was scheduled for Sunday.
The 2008 Olympics in Beijing has been Rowlands’s goal for years. Asked why he decided to take a detour that could lead him away from those plans, he said: “I guess curiosity and the fact that it is the N.F.L. Anybody who’s in America knows this is the grandest stage in sports inside the United States, so I wanted to see how I would stack up.”
In Las Vegas in four weeks, Konrad and Rowlands will wrestle each other for a berth on the United States national team. But this weekend they both seemed happy to be sharing living quarters. “Just because the two of us can relate to what the other is going through,” Konrad said.
Rowlands added, “We’re on the same wavelength.”
They both reported to the field for the first afternoon of drills with their helmets strapped on correctly. “Which was a plus,” Mangini deadpanned.
By the end of the day, both wrestlers had learned much about football, and presumably about themselves.
Jets Coach Eric Mangini said the veteran offensive lineman Pete Kendall, one of the team captains last year, had stopped attending the team’s voluntary workouts. Mangini sidestepped the question of whether Kendall’s absence would adversely affect his standing on the team, saying, “It’s positive to be here.” Mangini added, “It’s a voluntary program, but I think it is something that has real value.”