Updated Sat, May 25, 2013 11:17 am
When Cullen Cummings made the tough decision to hang up his soccer cleats for good, he became a full-time wrestler. His commitment to Ohio University was coupled with his decision to take to the mats, and though he will be leaving soccer behind him, his 12 years spent on the field will strongly impact his first year as a Division-I wrestler.
The native of Downers Grove, Ill., chose to wrestle, a sport he picked up around the fifth grade, rather than play soccer, a sport a started playing when he was six years old.
In his time at Downers Grove North High School Cummings was a stalwart for the Trojans. Over four years he compiled a 134-26 record. He qualified for the Illinois State Tournament three times and placed twice. He finished second and fourth in his junior and senior seasons, respectively.
As stellar a wrestling career as the two-sport Trojan had, he had an equally impressive soccer career. He was a star on the field for Downers North and played as a defender and midfielder. His greatest successes on the pitch, however, took him beyond high school competition.
In the summer of 2012, Cummings played for the U17 Galaxy 94-95 Blue soccer team – an under 17 boys team in the U.S. Youth Soccer National League. His team claimed the U17 Illinois State Cup Title in June and the U17 national title in July.
With an offer to play soccer at Bowling Green, and an offer to wrestle at Ohio University, Cummings had a to make a choice.
“I had to debate on which one I wanted to do,” Cummings said via phone. “I decided that I wanted to wrestle for the next four or five years.”
There were a number of other draws for Cummings to attend Ohio.
“I love the [wrestling] team,” he said. “All the guys are really cool, close-knit together. They get along and they work hard.” Noting the team’s recent success in which five Bobcats qualified for the 2013 NCAA Wrestling Championships, Cummings said, “I like how they are young and on the rise.”
Ohio’s top-rated sports management program is another big draw for Cummings; because he intends to enter the program and earn his degree in sports management. Cummings even said that the university’s campus was an additional positive in his decision to don the Green and White.
Cummings also said that it is helpful to see some familiar faces on Ohio’s roster. Ryan Garringer, Ohio’s 184-pounder hails from the same hometown as Cummings. Sparty Chino (157 pounds) and KeVon Powell (133 pounds) also call Illinois home.
“Illinois wrestling is a pretty tight community,” Downers Grove wrestling coach Chris McGrath said over the phone. “I think it made [Ohio University] more accessible. Making the jump from Illinois to Ohio, there are a lot of risks you take. Knowing someone there always helps.”
Now that Cummings will be attending Ohio to wrestle he will be focusing all of his efforts at one sport, which was foreign to him until the end of his senior soccer season at Downers North.
“[Before then] he was going to wrestling practice and then soccer practice right after that,” Ohio wrestling head coach Joel Greenlee said in a phone interview. “To me that’s huge; that’s quite a workload.”
According to McGrath, Cummings trains hard. “He’s no stranger to hard work,” he said.
But by just training for wrestling, McGrath said that his former wrestler has hit the weights, and hard. “[He wrestled at] 138 pounds but he will never see that again because he is about 158 right now,” McGrath said. “He’s just going to get bigger.”
The increase in size has Cummings, McGrath and Greenlee all thinking that the former 138-pounder will start at 141 pounds for the Bobcats, and then move up to 149 after his first year in Athens.
Though focusing some of his time on soccer might have kept Cummings at a lighter weight, playing on the field has not come without its benefits on the mats. He believes that soccer has made him more of an athlete than the average wrestler.
“It’s helped me to be more limber and flexible on the mats,” Cummings said. Greenlee also notes that his new wrestler should be well conditioned because of the great amount of running that soccer entails.
Despite the benefits of being a two-sport athlete, there are several things that Cummings needs to improve to make it at the Division-I level of college wrestling.
Both Greenlee and McGrath said that Cummings will have to learn how to endure the grind of a college wrestling season.
“He [must] learn how to take a beating, because that first varsity year is going to be rough,” McGrath said. “If he can endure that, stay healthy and continue to work hard the sky is the limit.”
“He is super athletic – ridiculously athletic, [but] right now his technique is above average, because he just hasn’t trained year round like Sparty Chino, Ryan Garringer and KeVon Powell have,” McGrath said about his former wrestler. “He’s just super competitive and super athletic and he hates to lose so he just finds a way to win. When he learns Division-I technique to go along with his ability he is going to be unstoppable.”
Regarding the potential that McGrath sees, Greenlee said, “I agree 100 percent … I think that’s exactly where [Cullen] is at. Then you look that he won the Illinois State Freestyle meet after the high school season was over. He’s already turned it up a bit.”
Cummings already has some things working his way but he also has areas to improve. His athleticism and still growing body are huge pluses for the young wrestler, but his technique and ability to endure a full college season will be key in the future. Ultimately his drive will determine his success at the next level.
“I’m a pretty hard-working kid,” he said. “I hate to lose and I will try everything to win.”