Wrestlers are well represented on the NFL rosters of the Super Bowl teams competing Sunday

By JD Rader, USA Wrestling | Feb. 01, 2019, 6:10 p.m. (ET)
Austin Blythe of the Los Angeles Rams was a three-time Iowa state wrestling champion in high school. Photo from Los Angeles Rams website.

It’s no secret that wrestlers make good football players. So, it will come as a surprise to few people that several former wrestlers will be playing in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday when the New England Patriots take on the Los Angeles Rams.

Expected to take the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga. are at least five former wrestlers that we have identified: John Sullivan of the Rams, Brian Allen of the Rams, Austin Blythe of the Rams, James Ferentz of the Patriots, and Danny Shelton of the Patriots.

Austin Blythe
Right guard, Los Angeles Rams


Austin Blythe is the starting right guard for the Rams. He was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft before and then traded to the Rams in 2017. Before his time in the NFL, Blythe was a four-year starter on the offensive line for the University of Iowa. In his senior year he was a finalist for the Rimington Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top center.

Blythe is among the best wrestlers to play in the NFL. Wrestling for Williamsburg High School in Iowa, Blythe won three straight heavyweight titles after placing second as a freshman, making him one of 63 four-time state finalists in state history. Blythe’s credentials extend to the national level as well. He was a double All-American in freestyle and Greco-Roman as a Cadet at Fargo and a Junior freestyle All-American.

Blythe recently joined the “On the Mat” podcast to discuss both his wrestling and football careers with Andy Hamilton.

Watch On the Mat podcast with Austin Blythe

John Sullivan
Center, Los Angeles Rams


After playing college football at Notre Dame, Sullivan was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. In 2017 Sullivan was traded to the Rams where he has been the starting center since.

As a wrestler Sullivan competed at heavyweight amounting a 138-6 record in high school, winning Connecticut state titles as a sophomore, junior and senior, and placing second his freshman year. In addition to being a 3x state champion and 4x finalist, Sullivan was a NHSCA All-American.

Sullivan is well aware how much wrestling helped him and can help others. “Wrestlers are adaptable,” he told TheGuillotine.com. “Every single sport loves wrestlers. They know they are guys that aren’t afraid to work hard. It is almost a fraternity. I look for guys who come in, and I want to know every single guy that wrestled in high school because you have a special bond with those guys. People who have never done it will never understand. Wrestling is the most brutal sport possible. It is not going to lead to the most brutal injuries – that goes to football – but wrestling is more difficult in terms of cardio and the training – the grind.”

Click here for the Guillotine article on John Sullivan and wrestling

Brian Allen
Center, Los Angeles Rams


Backing up Sullivan as the second-string center for the Rams will be Brian Allen. After playing four years at Michigan State, Allen was drafted in the fourth round by the Rams in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Before choosing to play college football at Michigan State, Sullivan was a standout high school wrestler at Hinsdale Central High School in Hinsdale, Ill. Sullivan was a 4x medalist placing third as a freshman at 215 lbs., runner-up as a sophomore at heavyweight, first as a junior at heavyweight, and runner-up as a senior at heavyweight. In 2012 Sullivan was ranked sixth nationally by IntermatWrestle.com at 285 lbs.

Allen also preaches the benefits of wrestling. “On a wrestling mat it’s one on one, so you have that mentality that it’s kind of you versus them,” he told TheRams.com. “And people who haven’t played individual sports like that haven’t kind of understood the successes and failures that come with that.”

Click here to read TheRams.com story on Brian Allen’s wrestling

James Ferentz
Offensive line, New England Patriots


Another Iowa native and former teammate at the University of Iowa, James Ferentz, will suit up Sunday for the Patriots. Ferentz is listed as the second-string left guard and third string center for New England. Since signing with Texans in 2014, Ferentz has played for the Broncos and the Patriots. This will be Ferentz’s third Super Bowl. He also played in last year’s Super Bowl and in Super Bowl 50 as a member of the Denver Broncos.

In high school Ferentz was a four-year varsity letter winner for Iowa City High School. As a senior in 2008, Ferentz only lost two matches to the same opponent and became a state finalist himself.

Danny Shelton
Defensive tackle, New England Patriots


Also suiting up for the Patriots will be second-string defensive tackle Danny Shelton. Shelton was dual athlete at the University of Washington competing in track and field in addition to football. He finished his college career by making the First-team All-Pac-12 team as a senior in 2014. In 2015 Shelton was drafted 12th overall by the Cleveland Browns.

Although Shelton only competed in wrestling for one year, he was able to make his mark. Shelton placed sixth in the 2010 4A Washington State Tournament at 285 lbs. as a junior. After committing to the University of Washington, Shelton opted not to compete in wrestling his senior year, but still worked out with the team.

Historically, there are many NFL athletes who wrestled in youth programs, high school and even college. There could be some other wrestlers on the two Super Bowl teams. If you are aware of any, please go to USA Wrestling’s Message Board and share that information with other wrestling fans.

Click here to add other wrestlers to the Super Bowl list

Super Bowl LIII will kick off Sunday on CBS at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Note: Photos of Ferentz and Shelton from the New England Patriots website and photos of Sullivan and Allen from the Los Angeles Rams website.