Rocky Lombardi: a name synonymous with football. Over the years, he’s made his mark as the quarterback for Valley High School; he competed in the Elite 11 and led his team to the second round of the playoffs last season. But, the football field is not the only place Rocky made an impact – he also left his mark on the wrestling mat.
Rocky was introduced to the sport through his father. At age six, he decided to start wrestling. When freshman year approached, Rocky became unsure as to whether or not he wanted to go out for the team. However, coach Travis Young stepped in and persuaded him to give it a chance.
Rocky played five sports throughout high school, so he was not simply looking for another sport to keep him busy – he had plenty of opportunities to do that elsewhere. Instead, Rocky wanted a sport that would be of personal value. He found what he was searching for in wrestling.
“What kept me there were the life lessons and the people I met along the way,” he says.
This is not to say that he underappreciates the physical aspect. Compared to other sports he partakes in, Rocky asserts that wrestling is the most challenging. In addition to being technical and sound, wrestlers must be mentally tough to push themselves everyday and maintain great physical stature.
Building the mental strength to be a successful wrestler is something Rocky constantly works at. Some days he felt less motivated than others, yet had to maintain a competitive attitude and work ethic. He credits those around him for helping him along the way.
“My coaches and teammates help me push everyday to try and make me the best I can be,” says Rocky.
The ambitious attitude translated to his main sport – football – and made him a better player. All of the strengths needed to be a successful wrestler correlate to being a successful quarterback, including but not limited to: mental toughness, a strong work ethic, body control, and strength and conditioning.
One unique aspect to wrestling that Rocky finds most enjoyable is how personal each match is. On the mat, you’re in isolation with the opponent.
“Not many other sports have that,” he says.
Rocky does absolutely zero off-season preparation. He doesn’t touch his shoes until November and when the end of the season arrives, he puts them away. If you witnessed him wrestle, you would realize how remarkable it is for him to practice only one season a year and still perform at such a high level.
At 6’4 and 220 pounds, he is taller, leaner, and faster than most other wrestlers. He is extremely explosive and can pin people in any position – he is never out of a match.
Recalling a time when his tenacity and competitive nature helped him overcome a deficit, Rocky says, “I was actually down 14-0 one time during freshman year and pinned him in the 3rd period.”
In addition to physical strength, his mentality propels him over opponents. Because Rocky has wrestled for majority of his life, he’s developed a good understanding of how to control his body and keep in good position.
His competitive nature pushes him to settle for nothing less than success and on February 17, 2016, everything paid off – Valley High School won dual state championship.
The first match of the dual was crucial (one of three that could have easily gone either way) but fellow teammate, Joe Nicholson, won the match and moved the team’s momentum in the right direction.
For the dual, Rocky bumped up to wrestle heavy weight and faced the 2nd best wrestler in that weight class. He won the match, 3-2, and provided the team with a solid cushion going into the final matches. Joel Shapiro won the final match and sealed their championship.
“The experience was unbelievable, extremely intense. It was our goal all year to win that dual, so we were very pumped to get the chance to do it,” Rocky says.
Just over a year later, on February 18, 2017, Rocky found himself back in the Iowa state final. This time, however, the results did not end in his favor.
Fifteen thousand fans packed the arena to watch Rocky face Wyatt Wriedt. It was a highly anticipated match. Earlier in the season, both wrestlers handed each other their only losses.
The match captured the attention of the entire state, and many wrestling fans across the country, because of how it ended.
The referee called Rocky for stalling (many experts say the call was extremely controversial) and sent the two into overtime. Rocky went on to lose the match.
It was one of the biggest heartbreaks in his athletic career, but he handled himself with extreme class and maturity.
Going into the day, Rocky assumed he had a good understanding of the importance of character, but never realized the sheer impact it has on an outsider’s perspective until a multitude of people approached him to praise his reaction to the loss. It’s a lesson Rocky will carry into college when he represents the Michigan State Spartans.
Not only did he learn the value of good character, but also that his actions as an athlete represent more than just himself – he represents his family, team, and community.
As he transitions into college, Rocky is extremely grateful for the memories made as a high school wrestler. Even though the championship ended in defeat, it was the experience of a lifetime.
“I would do it over again in a heartbeat if I could,” he says.
Rocky finished his senior season with a 41-2 record, 35 pins, and a top 10 national ranking. In his entire high school career he totaled 105 pins (a school record) and placed in the top 150 for number of pins in Iowa state history.
So, yeah, his career didn’t end in the picture perfect way. But, Rocky certainly made his mark on the mat and leaves behind a legacy of impressive physicality and incredible, genuine character that will live on for years to come.