George Roeder is a rare breed among Centennial big men.
It is fairly common for football interior linemen on both sides of the ball to take up wrestling in the winter. But it is exceedingly rare — particularly at a school like Centennial — for a football player to spend part of the season looking back on his junior wrestling year and wishing he could get back to the mats.
“The highlight of my season last year was finding my work ethic. I didn’t have a work ethic my sophomore year and I wanted that. I wanted to show everybody that it wasn’t a fluke,” Roeder said. “I’m extremely motivated. Especially during football season it was hard not to think about wrestling. The (football) season ending was a blessing in disguise. It allowed a lot of our young guys to get a quick start and guys like me to get in the room faster.”
He brought some teammates with him.
Nicknamed “Gumbo” because he lived in Louisiana for five years before returning to Arizona before his freshman year, the gregarious big men has played a major role in getting more Coyote football players to try out for wrestling.
Wrestling coach Brian Burgess said a high of 15 players are on this year’s wrestling squad.
“He’s definitely brought in more football players, especially offensive linemen. I think that’s why we’re successful. Most of those offensive linemen have wrestled,” Burgess said. “It’s been a big push lately.”
Roeder draws on family history in both sports. He said he played football since age 4 and has wrestled since he was 10.
After growing up in Prairieville, southeast of Baton Rouge, he came back to Arizona and knew where he wanted to study and play both sports.
“It’s the reason I came here. I knew they were good at academics and good at sports,” Roeder said.
He became acquainted with Burgess — also the freshman football head coach — very quickly.
Roeder also got some work in with former Coyote state champion Lewis Arendall to help learn.
“My freshman year, I learned what real conditioning was like when it came to wrestling practice. Coach Burgess was my freshman football coach and I thought that conditioning was bad until I started wrestling. After that everything seemed easy,” Roeder said.
While the chance to learn was ideal, transitioning to the high school mat game took some adjustments.
“He’s claustrophobic as heck and in wrestling that’s not a good thing. He add to overcome things like that,” Burgess said. “He fought through that even though it was a struggle at the beginning. ”
Roeder got through it ans stayed around. He is the lone four-year wrestler on this year’s roster.
Now the varsity starter, Roeder placed fourth in the Division II heavyweight ranks as a sophomore.
He has been in the upper echelon since, and has learned not to go overboard.
“He’s fun to be around. He’s very intense on the field and on the mat. You almost worried he couldn’t control himself because he was so excited about contact. He’s always been very gung-ho and very into team,” Burgess said. “He’s very outgoing and very energetic.”
Burgess said he saw Roeder’s sophomore year wrestling gains translate into his junior year football emergence.
Starting at guard for the first time, Roeder played a role on one of Centennial’s greatest football teams. The Coyotes finished the season 14-0 and outscored opponents 624-102.
“It’s hard to say that’s the best team Centennial has ever produced. To just look back at it, when you’re going through it you just worry about what’s next and don’t worry about the past. But we talk about, ‘What about Steven Bailey and Isaac Steele’s team?’ We had to focus on the fact that we’re us,” Roeder said.
Colleges started showed interest in him by his junior football season.
The 2018 Coyotes’ dominance led to them hosting a Washington school in the GEICO Bowl just before Christmas. So Roeder was not fully available for wrestling until midway through the season.
Roeder still managed to place third among Division II heavyweights in his junior season.
“To get over the top he needs to stop thinking so much and go with what he knows. Most likely he will be stronger than the guys he wrestles. He’s freakishly strong,” Burgess said. “He doesn’t get scared anymore.”
Coyotes football coach Richard Taylor said Roeder always was ready for practice and ready for games — and that his enthusiasm was contagious and motivating.
“George was elected captain by his teammates. They loved respected and maybe feared George a little,” Taylor said.
This year the big guy received a surprisingly long wrestling season. Arizona began its open division concept for the state’s top eight football teams. Centennial qualified but lost to Chandler Hamilton Nov. 15.
That also gave him more time to recruit for wrestling.
“I encourage a lot of kids. A lot of the freshmen are in there and we’ve had the most heavyweights that we’ve had in years,” Roeder said. “I’ve seen the program grow and adapt to what’s coming around."
And it goes beyond football. He said he’s excited to see an almost a full team of girls wrestlers after only two or three to try out when that sport began last year.
Burgess has been the freshman football coach for decades and has seen the connection between the two sports ebb and flow. He’s glad to see it on a high now. Only one more link remains.
“The weightlifting program for football is just unreal. They transfer that, and that strength. If I can get all the other wrestlers to buy into that weight training we’d be unstoppable,” Burgess said.
Probably three of Roeder’s Division II heavyweight rivals have a hope of matching his strength at the state finals Feb. 13-14 in Prescott Valley. Roeder edged Gilbert Higley senior Jackson Solomon in th third place match last year.
Phoenix Horizon senior Raphael Masella won the heavyweight division at the Peoria Invitational earlier this month. Roeder then placed second at the Flowing Wells Invitational in Tucson, reaching the final by squeaking by Tucson Sunnyside senior Harvey Gonzalez in double overtime on an epic semifinal.
“It was really a hell of a match. Me and him are good buddies from FCA camp together for two years. I’ve seen (Masella) wrestle and he won the Peoria tournament. He’s a great guy and a great wrestler,” Roeder said.
Roeder would love to continue both sports in college but knows those opportunities are rare. Thus far only Concordia Moorehead (Minn.) offered him a dual sport opportunity, though St John’s (Minn.) has shown some wrestling interest. He has football-only offers from Anna Maria (Mass.), Brevard (N.C.), Buena Vista (Iowa), Jamestown (N.D.), McPherson (Kansas), Ottawa University in Surprise and Rocky Mountain (Montana).
Wherever he lands, Roeder said he wants to embark on a career path to become a science teacher. Craig Weeks has been his inspiration at Centennial, and after teaching him for three years, Roeder now serves as his teacher’s aide.
“There’s a need for it. Science is everywhere and we should pay more attention to it,” Roeder said.