For Jeff Kimpel, a switch from basketball to wrestling a little more than 3 years ago was a matter of simple math.
The Polo High School senior played basketball in junior high. He was admittedly not a gifted player, but still enjoyed the competition and his role with the team.
Upon entering high school, he saw five starting positions available in basketball, but 14 spots in the Marcos' wrestling lineup. Football is the first sport of choice for the stocky, 5-foot-9 Kimpel. With a nudge from assistant football coach Justin Zigler, who is also the Polo wrestling coach, Kimpel decided to give wrestling a try.
"Having that opportunity coming in my freshman year, with the extra nine spots," Kimpel said, "I thought I could fill one."
Kimpel ended up earning the 145-pound starting position, and posted a 9-10 record. It was a learning experience for all involved.
"All I can remember with Jeff is he was raw," Zigler said. "He didn't have a proper stance. His shot was just diving at a leg – it wasn't a set-up."
"Oh, I was bad," Kimpel said. "I had so many upperclassmen kids that were beating on me in practice, I almost quit a few times. I stuck with it because I was thinking in my head, 'This is going to make me better at football,' and it did. It paid off the next year in football, so I tried it again."
Kimpel played varsity football as a sophomore at Polo, then it was time for wrestling season. He had bulked up to 160 pounds by then, but that spot in the lineup was occupied by a superior wrestler, Zach Hagemann.
Kimpel wrestled just three varsity bouts, going 2-1.
As a junior, Kimpel again found himself in the Marcos' wrestling lineup. He posted a 25-16 record at 170 pounds, and earned a sectional berth after placing third at the regional.
That success made him want to invest more in the sport. Last summer, he attended the Alpha Wrestling Academy in Rockford, where he knocked heads with the likes of former Lena-Winslow state champion Logan Staver and current Byron standout Ross Sealby, considered to be a title threat this season.
"There were so many little tips, little hints that helped me for this year," Kimpel said.
"That's what flipped the switch a little bit more – that extra offseason wrestling," Zigler added. "It's given him a little bit more of a mental edge."
Kimpel had another successful football season as a senior. A fullback/linebacker, he rushed 85 times for 413 yards and five touchdowns, and tied for the area lead with five sacks. After football season, he jumped head-first into wrestling, and the improvement has continued. He currently sports a 21-7 record, and won a 182-pound regional championship this past Saturday in Polo.
He admits he's far from polished as a wrestler, but has embraced the sport's demanding nature. He considers a wrestling workout to be the greatest challenge.
"There's nothing like them," Kimpel said. "All the conditioning, the hard work – it's not even the physical part of it, though. It's the mental part most of the time."
When asked what his signature move was, Kimpel stressed he doesn't have one.
"I'm not the greatest wrestler out there," he said, "but I just usually out-work most of my kids. I haven't mastered any of these moves like most of these state champions, but I put in so much time and effort in the weightroom this summer, I have it planted in my mind that no one's going to out-work me."
Kimpel will have that mentality when he takes to the mat at the Byron Sectional on Friday and Saturday. The top four finishers in each weight class advance to state, and he thinks he has a fighting chance to be among those athletes.
"With all the training I did in the offseason, and then going up to Alpha," Kimpel said, "it's really prepared me. I think I can give some people a run for their money this weekend."
FYI: Won 182-pound title at Polo Regional on Saturday. ... Currently sports a 21-7 record. ... Played basketball in junior high. ... Will attend NIU and study to become athletic trainer