Jake Filkins loves Minnesota’s football season because he can eat whatever he wants.
The two-sport athlete doesn’t have the same luxury during the Gophers’ wrestling season.
Filkins, a sophomore from Prescott, Wis., joined the football team as a long snapper last season after being recruited by J Robinson to wrestle. He now participates in two of the most grueling collegiate sports in back-to-back seasons.
“You know, he’s a tough kid, and that’s a good thing,” said football coach Jerry Kill, who coached one season of wrestling at Midwest City High School (Oklahoma) and has never had a football player also wrestle in his 17 seasons as a collegiate head coach.
Toughness, though, does not necessarily breed excellence. Filkins’ most noteworthy play from 2010 came against Purdue when he sailed a snap over punter Dan Orseske’s head. The Boilermakers took a 14-0 lead six plays later and went on to win 28-17.
Tim Brewster was fired the following morning.
“The second I let it go I’m like, ‘Oh crap. That could be high,’” Filkins said of the botched snap. “All of a sudden I heard all the fans cheer. I looked back and saw the back of Dan’s jersey, and I’m like, ‘Oh no.’”
After the blunder against Purdue, Filkins’ wrestling teammates gave him a harder time than the football team. His roommate, 149-pounder Danny Zilverberg, actually changed his computer background to a photo of Filkins with his hands on his helmet.
“They tease him,” head assistant wrestling coach Joe Russell said. “I would say it’s a little rivalry, and they want to have fun with it, but everybody is super supportive. If he has a bad performance they’ll let him know about it just like they would on the wrestling mat.
“He’s representing the wrestlers when he’s out there snapping the football, so there’s a little more pressure on him. But it’s in fun, and I think everybody enjoys seeing him do it.”
Recruited to wrestle
Filkins tore his ACL the summer before his junior year at Prescott High School. He had been ranked in the top-25 nationally at 189 pounds as a sophomore but never returned to the rankings.
Robinson was the only collegiate coach who looked past his injury and invited him to join the team as a recruited walk on.
“A lot of the good, big guys usually end up playing football, so you need good guys that are bigger, and he showed some interest,” Russell said. “There was a thought that he wanted to be a Division I wrestler, so we’d better get him. A guy that’s local like that, we don’t want him going to Wisconsin or Iowa or something like that.”
Filkins came to Minnesota to wrestle as a 197-pounder. When he tried out for the football team as a freshman in spring of 2009, coaches told Filkins he had to bulk up. That meant he had to move up to heavyweight on the mat, which proved to be a bittersweet move.
Tony Nelson is the same age as Filkins, and the two heavyweights have three years of eligibility remaining. Filkins served as a backup during the 2010-11 season and never wrestled varsity while Nelson earned All-American honors.
“My dream was always to start for a [Division I] wrestling program, and that may not happen now,” said Filkins, admitting wrestling — not football — is his passion. “But you know what? Now I look at it as, ‘his goal is to be a national champ. What can I do to help him get there?’”****
Filkins spent much of last season as Nelson’s drill partner. Robinson would watch film on Nelson’s upcoming opponent, and Filkins would reenact the competitor’s tendencies. Filkins never had a guaranteed starting spot as a walk on, but with only three heavyweights on next year’s roster, wrestling isn’t out of the question.
“It’s not like he’s a long way away from being the starter,” Russell said. “An injury or something and he could be competing for us.”
‘He made my hands sting’
During winter wrestling workouts in Filkins’ redshirt year, he and some of the wrestlers — including Kevin Steinhaus, a quarterback in high school — went into the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex and started throwing a football around. Filkins started hurling deep snaps and the wrestlers nagged him to try out for the football team.
Shortly thereafter, he spoke to former special teams coach John Butler, who invited him to spring practice after seeing him snap. With a successful month of spring ball, Butler and Brewster invited him to try out in the fall. Filkins continued to impress, and he earned a scholarship and the starting snapper postion for the punting unit.
“I didn’t know who he was or anything about him. Then I saw him around and he went out, and when he snapped the ball he made my hands sting,” Orseske said. “He’s the faster snapper I’ve ever caught a ball from.”
Filkins’ dad was a long snapper in high school, and when seventh grade football came around, the two went out in the backyard and started snapping. He’s been doing it ever since.
And although the Gophers were the worst net punting team in the nation last season, which Filkins asserts was not wholly the fault of the punter, he continues to work and improve.
“Jake’s a great snapper, and he’s gotten a lot better than when he started last year,” Orseske said.
The Gophers wrestling team will compete at Ohio State this weekend as part of spring competitions, which don’t count for the season. Wrestlers will compete in Olympic-style Greco-Roman wrestling at the meet, Filkins’ favorite style.
Filkins, though, will be at TCF Bank Stadium for Saturday’s football spring game.
“They’re paying his bills, so his priorities have to be with [football],” Russell said. “I know he’s bummed he can’t compete. He understands his commitment to the football team.”
The commitment to both causes Filkins to miss practices for each. Last season he missed fall wrestling workouts because of football. After the Gophers failed to make a bowl game, he went back to wrestling, but he missed winter football workouts. Varsity collegiate sports never really stop practicing, so Filkins is always missing one.
It doesn’t help that the physical requirements for wrestling and football are quite different, and he wasn’t in wrestling shape after last football season.
“It is very time consuming what he’s doing with the football team,” Russell said. “When they have downtime, he’s with us. I suspect once they’re done with spring ball we’ll see him in the room quite often.”
Filkins isn’t the first Minnesota student-athlete to compete in both sports. Offensive lineman Norries Wilson, now head football coach at Columbia Univervity, captained the football team in 1988 and wrestled as a heavyweight. Chris Stogdill, a teammate of Russell’s two decades ago, also played the two sports.
Some of the current Gophers football players wrestled in high school. Freshman offensive lineman Josh Campion was a standout wrestler at Fergus Falls High School.
“I guess he was a stud because he always jokes about wanting to wrestle me,” Filkins said. “That’s the joke: ‘Hey, do you want to wrestle?’”
Campion might want to be careful. Filkins rarely backs down from a challenge.
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