Athlete of the week: Eric Stevens, Elk River, wrestling: Third wind

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

As a cross country runner, Eric Stevens trekked hundred of miles each fall with modest success to show for it. But all that roadwork really pays off when he’s wrestling.

“The third period, that’s when I get most of my points,” said Stevens. “A lot of guys get tired in the third period and slow down. All that conditioning (from cross country) really helps.”

Eric Stevens has run up 112 varsity wins and is hoping for a second trip to state. He's also a cross country and track runner. (Studio H Photography)

Not many wrestlers are distance runners. Football is a far more popular fall choice. But Elk coach Paul Nelson can see the benefit, having coached three Stevens brothers who ran, Austin (Eric’s twin) and Tyler being the others.

“Like his brothers, he has very good wind, which makes him pretty tough in the third period,” said Nelson.

Stevens became the 12th Elk to join the 100-win club earlier this year. With a 23-5 mark and nine pins so far this season, on the heels of a 35-8 ledger last year, he has a 112-37 career record with 40 pins.

He’s been all-conference since ninth grade, and earned his first state trip last year by placing second in the section. He had a win, then two losses, at state, at 130 pounds.

This year he’s been wrestling at 140 but will drop to 135 for post-season, and at that weight he is ranked No. 3 in Class 3A by The Guillotine. Four of his losses came early when dealing with an ankle sprain and a pulled muscle in his shoulder; he’s won 14 of his last 15.

He’s coming off a big weekend, going 5-0 against tough dual meet competition last Friday and Saturday when the Elks won only two of the five matches.

“Eric is smoking right now,” said Nelson.

Stevens has lettered since eighth grade in cross country and since ninth grade in track where he runs the  1600 and 3200. His career running highlight was placing 29th in the NWSC cross country meet as a junior, for all-conference honorable mention. This year he was off to a good start before sustaining a stress fracture in his foot.

“I believe that Eric is more fit at this moment then at any point in his carrier in athletics,” said CC coach Mike Niziolek. “I am impressed, every day, when I see Eric pounding out the miles in the halls of ERHS to fine-tune his high level of fitness for wrestling.”

Along with endurance, Stevens has tons of tenacity going for him, too.

“I’ll tell you a story about Eric when I coached him in seventh grade,” said Nelson. “One day we tested the guys on situps and pushups. At the end of the two-hour practice he was still doing situps. He had over 500 over them. I had to make him stop.”

Stevens, a lanky wrestler at 5-foot-11, likes the low-single leg and the “kelly” for takedowns, and the half-Nelson for pins although he has other pinning holds, too. He gets into a lot of scramble situations and almost always get the best of them in points. “He is mentally tough, and very competitive — he hates to lose,” said Nelson.

The “running” total, incidentally, of career wins for the three Stevens brothers is 335 heading into the twins’ final post-season.

The Stevens scorecard

Eric Stevens

Personal file – Age: 17 … Family: parents Edward and Kris; brothers Jacob, 21, Tylor, 19, and Austin, 17 … Sports: cross country, wrestling, track … Academics: 3.82 GPA …. Other activities: Spanish Club (10-11), Math Team, National Honor Society, Evening of the Arts … College: probably UM-Duluth, mechanical engineering

Favorite stuff – Class: clay … TV show: “Criminal Minds” … Movie: “Hangover” … Music: rock, hip-hop, especially Nickelback … Team: Twins, Vikings … Athlete: Jason Ness … Drink: Mt. Dew Code Red … Kickback activities: hunting deer, fishing for sunnies and crappies … Place he’d like to visit: Italy

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