After long run on the gridiron, Ike’s wrestling team can focus on grappling

By: Timothy Pontzer | Shelby - Utica News | Published January 9, 2017

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP — This past football season, David Drath attended every Utica Eisenhower contest, cheering along the Eagles as they earned conference, district and regional titles.

An assistant with the JV football squad since 1993, he was very pleased with Ike’s deep playoff run, as the team reached the state semifinals. But Drath knew the postseason success would take a toll on his other Eisenhower coaching post.

Drath has helmed the school’s wrestling program since 1992, and of the 44 varsity grapplers he is overseeing this year, 15 of them suited up on the gridiron.

“Looking at it, you knew the way we were going in the playoffs that we were going to take a few lumps early on in the wrestling season,” Drath said. “It was obviously worth it. We had a fantastic football season, but it definitely gave us a late start.”

The football semifinal took place on Nov. 19, less than a month before the prestigious Macomb County Invitational on Dec. 16-17. Coupled with rest, rehab from injuries, and Thanksgiving break, several of Drath’s top choices for the event had less than two weeks to prepare.

“Our studs from our top weight classes all started on the football team,” Drath said. “I knew they would have a tough time preparing for the (Macomb County Invitational), so we looked at it just as a way to prepare. The end of the season is where everything matters anyway.”

“I honestly just used the tournament to knock the rust off,” said Noah Lumetta, a senior defensive lineman and the top grappler at 189 pounds. “A lot of us football players did that, and I think we all did pretty decent for only a couple weeks of practice.”

Last season, with 14 seniors on the roster, Ike finished second at the event. This time around, with a much younger lineup and the short turnaround after football, Ike placed ninth. Drath was quite pleased with the result.

“Honestly, it is not disappointing at all. In fact, we actually did pretty good given the circumstances,” Drath said. “If we could finish top 10, I was going to be happy.”

With the calendar flipped, the focus now shifts to the districts, with Drath’s kids hoping to advance to the regional and state rounds.

“After Christmas, we really hit the grind,” Drath said. “We have roughly two meets a week until districts, and hopefully we wrap up in the first weekend in March.”

To focus his club for the journey, Drath pointed to his three senior captains — Lumetta, Matthew Surma and Danny Smyk. Each member of the trio was on the football team and is now hungry for a chance to make states for the first time.

“We love the leadership role, but we don’t look at ourselves as being higher than anyone else,” said Smyk, a linebacker and the top representative at 171 pounds. “It is just that sometimes somebody needs to say something to the group to get us in line.”

Surma agreed, citing the 14 seniors who graduated from last year, the biggest senior class in Ike wrestling history. A standout lineman who has committed to play football at Northwood University, Surma is excited to get a chance to fill that void.

“We lost about 75 percent of our lineup from last year, so we do feel a little bit of pressure to fill their shoes,” Surma said. “There are a lot of freshmen here, so they don’t always understand the responsibilities and work that is needed in the wrestling room, but everybody is coming along nicely.”

Their coach is thankful for the guidance being passed along by his captains, saying the effect is evident on the entire roster.

“This is a group of kids that like to have fun and make practices enjoyable, but will wrestle hard and get down to business when it is necessary,” Drath said. “It can be tough. When you come into these rooms it is warm and smelly, but they keep the atmosphere light. We have a good group that is hardworking and willing to fight.”

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