Being a quarterback involves withstanding not only the physical pressure of an opposing defense, but also the mental aspect of a stadium full of eyes watching and analyzing your every move.
Quarterbacks require both physical and mental toughness to overcome adversity, and the Pepperell Dragons certainly have that within their quarterback room.
Three of Pepperell’s four quarterbacks, junior Matthew Waddell, and sophomores Erik Jensen and Kolton Edge, are bringing their experiences from the sport of wrestling and the mat to the gridiron as another season of high school football arrives. All three have wrestled since eighth grade.
“A big thing for wrestling is the mental part,” Waddell said. “I believe the things you go through in wrestling like the kind of conditioning and ... mental goals you have to reach for yourself, it helps you in pretty much all your sports but especially football because you kind of have that conditioning that you already had from wrestling and that mentality of I’m a go-getter, I’m gonna finish all these things.”
This past February, Waddell won the Class AA 160-pound state championship in wrestling, bringing an individual title back to Lindale for the first time since Drake Miller won state in 2019.
“When I was doing state, I told myself ‘I’m a state champion, I’m a state champion,’” Waddell said. “That mindset got me there, so I believe most of these people don’t really take that mindset seriously and take it to the next level.”
Jensen said wrestling has an individualistic aspect to it, requiring 100% every time on the mat.
“It’s you versus your opponent. If you lose, it’s your fault, nobody else’s,” Jensen said. “In football, it’s easy to blame it on that cornerback, that safety, that linebacker. But for wrestlers, mentally, they mentally know that, it’s all of us. We all messed up.”
Waddell, who was Pepperell’s featured quarterback majority of last year, said physically he has most improved on his footwork in wrestling and hopes that translates to the football field this fall.
Edge, who is also listed as a linebacker and running back, could factor in all over the field for the Dragons.
“I’ve talked to a lot of coaches, and all of them have told me, like as a linebacker too, all of our good tacklers have been wrestlers because ... like a double-leg takedown or a shot, they just know how to get down there and get low,” Edge said.
While physical toughness improves one’s ability to compete, mental toughness allows those to withstand the physical punishment of a lengthy season.
“I’ve been around this game as a player/coach for 42 of my 51 years,” Dragons head coach Rick Hurst said. “I’m gonna tell you right now mental toughness is the most important thing that you can have in this game because you’re going to put your body through things you never thought was possible. You’re going to be physically beaten up in a game, especially toward the end of the season, that you don’t think you’re going to make it to the next practice.”
“You have to train your mind to understand the body can take a lot more than my mind can,” Hurst continued. “Once you get past that mental hurdle, this game is not very hard.”
The Dragons open their 2021 season on Friday when the Haralson County Rebels visit Lindale. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.