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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Wrestling background helping freshman Newkirk excel in trenches

[media-credit name=’DEREK MONTGOMERY/Herald photo’ align=’alignnone’ width=’648′]newkirk_dm_416[/media-credit]Crazy, psychotic, fanatical.

These are words not typically used to describe the heart, intensity and work ethic of your average athlete. But, then again, anyone who's ever witnessed Mike Newkirk's insane work ethic would understand why coaches, players and even Newkirk himself use these words to describe the redshirt freshman.

"He's a little bit of a psycho. You get done running sprints and then he'll want to run 10 more sprints in the summer when you don't need to do it, so … he's a little intense," defensive line coach John Palermo said.


That intensity has been the trademark for the Ladysmith native. Even before he set foot on campus, Newkirk was focused on his goal of playing football. As a youngster attending UW camps, Newkirk endeared himself to Palermo and other coaches in large part because of the hard work he put in and love of the game he displayed.

"Some of the guys, they think I'm crazy," Newkirk said. "I had worked real hard through high school, and I don't think they realized how hard I was working before, and I knew myself that I could handle it because I'd been trained to handle it."

However, not everybody was supportive of his tireless work ethic at first. Coaches originally worried that the extra stress Newkirk placed on his body would wear him down for the long grind of the regular season. Yet eight games into the season, Newkirk has proved the doubters wrong, instead earning the support of the same people who once questioned him.

"When you start making plays and you establish yourself and they see you can take advantage of it, they're all for it," Newkirk said. "They want to see a player who's interested in making the team better, making themselves better and just doing anything they can. They were cautious about it at first, but now they're real supportive of it."

Wrestler's mentality

Growing up in northern Wisconsin, Newkirk picked up his intense work habit from, among other places, a schedule that included school, working with his dad and starring in three sports. Like many high school athletes, Newkirk was a multi-sport star, lettering in wrestling and track as well as football.

He was an all-state performer on the gridiron, earning the 2003 Offensive Player of the Year award from the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association, and won the Division 2 state shot put title as a senior. But it was wrestling that held, and still holds, a special place in Newkirk's heart.

It was wrestling that taught him, at a young age, the meaning of hard work and dedication. The lessons paid off, too, as Newkirk became the first wrestler in the history of Rusk County to win a state title. Newkirk took home top honors in the heavyweight class as a junior, posting a 42-0 record while defeating opponents as much as 50 pounds heavier than he was.

"I think you have to be really tough now to be a wrestler," Palermo said. "Mentally tough, and Mike's mentally tough. I don't think you get that from other sports."

Eventually the toughness and work ethic he learned led Newkirk to find a childhood hero in Iowa State wrestler and Iowa head coach Dan Gable. Gable's career accomplishments are world renowned, as the former college star went 181-1 in his four years of college and later earned a gold medal at the 1972 Olympic Games. The former Iowa State star's influence on Newkirk is obvious, as Gable, much like Newkirk, was called crazy for his unending work ethic.

"The mentality of Dan Gable, that's the wrestler's mentality right there," Newkirk said. "If you know anything about Dan Gable and his quotes, stuff like that, that's just stuff you try to carry … not just on the mat, but on the football field."

Beating the odds

The Gable mentality has paid huge dividends for Newkirk throughout his young UW career. Originally slated to play middle linebacker in his first fall camp, Newkirk quickly showed his talents would be better utilized along the defensive front, eventually finding a home at defensive tackle to open this season. It's at his newest position that the 260-pound Newkirk has found his wrestling background the most useful.

"I'm a lighter guy playing in the middle. You definitely have to stay low, and sometimes you learn that the hard way," Newkirk said. "When I get high on some plays, I'll get pushed back, and it's a reminder that you have to use leverage and stay low."

The reminders have set in, and Newkirk has found himself becoming an integral part of a UW defensive line rotation that's shrunk considerably throughout the year. Newkirk's play has impressed coaches so much that he earned his first start of the season against Purdue, responding with six tackles — including one for a loss — one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

"Mike was very patient — is probably the best way to put it — in waiting for his opportunity to be the guy," Palermo said. "I think he proved on Saturday that he can be the guy as long as he continues to improve every week."

But Newkirk, as is to be expected, isn't satisfied with his play or even with the start. Rather, both have served as a motivating tool for the freshman, driving this "psychotic" player into an even "crazier" routine.

"Never be satisfied, no matter how many plays you make, no matter how good you are. You really need to work hard," Newkirk said. "The hard thing to do is work when nobody is watching, and that's really what defines what kind of player you are."

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