Prep athletes ready to make quick jump from football to winter sports

Grand Junction High School’s Matt Wilkinson, center, grabs a rebound from his fellow teammates during open gym time at the school. Wilkinson started for the school’s football team and is now preparing for the varsity basketball season.

The long days are over. The punishment delivered to opponents and self is done.

For the three Class 5A schools in the valley, football season is complete, but for some, another season is just beginning, with many of the same demands upon the body.

Drop off the football pads and pick up the basketball jersey or wrestling headgear.

Winter practice begins Nov. 12.

Matt Wilkinson of Grand Junction High School was the Tigers’ starting tackle for the football team.

The 6-foot-5 Wilkinson also has been playing basketball for the past three seasons and looks to
have a more important role on the team this winter.

“Playing two sports is pretty fun,” Wilkinson said. “I will remember this year forever.”

What could make this year special for Wilkinson is the fact he had played sparsely on varsity in both sports prior to this year. Wilkinson paid his dues during the football season and ended up having a solid senior year as a part of an offensive line that helped running back Jayke Brock gain more than 1,000 yards rushing and quarterback Sean Rubalcaba throw for nearly 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns.

“I have a chance to play in both sports as a senior,” Wilkinson said. “In both sports, I’ve just tried to get better and contribute and be a part of the team.”

As a nose tackle, the middle man in Central’s 3-5 defense, senior Zach Rosales took his share of lumps.

Rosales, like Wilkinson, saw his football season come to an end last week. That gives him a week-and-a-half break between football and wrestling seasons.

Rosales wrestled at 215 pounds last year. He currently weighs 255.

“I might (wrestle) at heavyweight,” he said, rather than trying to lose 40 pounds.

As excited as Wilkinson is to get going with the basketball season, he didn’t seem to be fazed by the challenge of switching from a football mentality to a basketball mentality in such a short period of time.

Grand Junction basketball coach Dutch Johnson said he tends to see a slow start from the boys who played football but supports anyone who wants to play more than just one sport.

“A lot of them haven’t touched a basketball since July or August so there is always rust,” Johnson said. “Last year, Doug Brady was playing the wrong sport when he first came out.

“But I see more success with kids who are playing two sports, especially kids coming from football and having that chance to compete at the varsity level. It is obvious to me.”

Wilkinson isn’t alone in his transition from football to basketball for the Tigers.

Justin Trujillo and Tyler Winder both will be suiting up for the basketball team. But with all the time committed to football, attempting to squeeze in opportunities to work on their basketball game was far and few in between.

“Shooting free throws in the driveway, just working on my shots as soon as I would get home from football,” Wilkinson said. “It is hard to focus on two sports and homework.”

Trujillo ran into the same plight of running out of hours to practice basketball.

“I would just shoot on the weekends,” Trujillo said. “There is going to be some rust but it goes away fast once you start practicing. It’s like riding a bike, it comes back quick.”

The quick turnaround has its positives. The young athletes have been in a competitive state of mind all fall and have a jump on conditioning.

“You don’t lose too much conditioning because we run so much during football season,” Wilkinson said. “With that quick transfer you don’t lose too much conditioning.”

Central wrestling coach Laurence Gurule told Rosales to take it easy this week. Rosales is still nursing a shoulder injury from football and has the usual bumps, bruises and nicks that come with a full football season.

“This week I’ve been lifting (weights),” he said, “just kind of conditioning.”

He doesn’t want to lift too hard, lest he gain more muscle weight and then decide to drop to 215 pounds.

Rosales has used the week and a half between seasons as much for a mental break as for its physical benefits.

“Yeah, especially going into wresting because it is so mentally demanding,” Rosales said.

He’s not looking forward to Gurule’s 30-minute preseason conditioning runs, always one of the more
grueling traditions of Central wrestling.

As for the season, “I’m really excited for it,” Rosales said.


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