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Football players make the tough transition into winter sports

Published Dec. 13 at 5:26 p.m. | Last updated Dec. 13 at 5:28 p.m.

The first week Mulvane senior Nolan Smith spent in basketball practice was painful. His entire body ached, his knees hurt and his game wasn’t where he wanted it to be.

The pain wasn’t because of poor physical condition. He just was still in football shape.

Smith and nine of Mulvane’s top basketball players missed the first week of basketball practice because the Wildcats played in the Class 4A football semifinals. The late start meant a delayed return of their basketball skills.

“The rebounding comes back easy because it’s very physical, and you’re already in the physical mindset. That helps,” said Smith, a wide receiver and point guard. “The dribbling is always a little rusty to start out.”

Senior Ty Redington struggled with his shot.

“It takes a little while to get back into it and get your feel back,” Redington said.

The Wildcats (2-2) played summer basketball, but most didn’t pick up a basketball during football season. In past seasons, when the football team didn’t advance so deep into the playoffs, there was time to regain that shooting touch before the season’s first practice.

The biggest difference, though, is conditioning.

“Football … you get a break, and basketball is full-out sprints all the time,” Smith said.

“They’re used to having a play, resting 25 seconds, then having another play,” basketball coach Don Shirley said. “… We got them on the Tuesday right before Thanksgiving, and you could tell they were pretty rusty right at first. As we moved along, their shooting touch returned. After the third or fourth day, their shots were starting to come back.”

Four varsity wrestlers from Mulvane also missed the first week of practice because of football. The transition wasn’t as difficult as the basketball players had largely because football and wrestling complement each other because of the physicality, one-on-one battles and footwork.

But the intensity of a six-minute match is vastly different.

“It’s a solid six minutes, so there’s a physical change they have to adapt to,” Mulvane coach Rick Langerot said.

For senior Kolby Fennewald, who is 8-0 at 170 pounds, it’s been tough to handle the usual exhaustion of intense practices rife with running and wrestling. But his biggest battle was mental.

“The first couple weeks I didn’t feel like going to wrestling practice at all,” he said. “I felt like going to football practice. I would go to wrestling practice and think about football practice the whole time.”

With a change in sports also comes a change in leadership. Redington went from running the team as Mulvane’s quarterback to taking a backseat to Smith in basketball.

And that’s OK.

“I try to keep some of the same leadership qualities from football into basketball,” said Redington, also a catcher on the baseball team. “It’s definitely a little different…. It’s pretty easy, though, because that’s how it’s always been. I grew up playing with Nolan in Biddy (basketball). He was a point guard there. Basketball is his thing. He embraces it and takes control. If we need a bucket, he makes it happen. If we need a stop, he gets us going.”

What helped the transition for both the basketball and wrestling teams is the dedication of the key athletes — “an athlete that is dedicated to any sport will try to maintain that attitude for all of them,” Langerot said.

The basketball and wrestling teams also are senior-heavy. These seniors are intent on finishing their careers — in all their sports — in the right way.

Fennewald wants his individual state title in wrestling. The basketball team wants to make some noise in Class 4A.

“We’re heavy on football players (on the basketball team), but we all love all the sports,” Smith said. “We have people playing that are looking to play football, baseball or basketball in college.

“We like to compete and play for one another.”

Check Joanna Chadwick’s VarsityKansas.com blog at blogs.varsitykansas.com. Reach her at jchadwick@wichitaeagle.com or 316-268-6270.