by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
When Mitch Robinson was little, he was enamored with WWE, especially a masked, hydrant-shaped ruffian named Rey Mysterio. “That’s what I wanted to do, jump off tables and chairs and things like that,” said Robinson. When he took up wrestling at age 7, he found it wasn’t much like the pro style but loved it anyway. His first coach, Pete Nielsen, “really made it fun,” and he was inspired by Nielsen’s son Zac, a two-time state champion.
The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Zimmerman senior has been knocking people on their butts as a wrestler and football lineman through high school. He opened the wrestling season notching his 100th victory and the seventh invitational championship at Fridley last Saturday.
“Wrestling is in my blood,” said Robinson, who followed two brothers. “It’s a smash-mouth sport. It’s in me. I have to do it.”
Robinson’s 100th win was 11-3 over Irondale’s Conner Laubach. He went on to beat No. 4 ranked Chandler Arredondo of Richfield-Edina 4-2 in the 195-pound finals, which should move him up from No. 6 in the Guillotine listings.
A state qualifier in 10th grade, he was taken down by mononucleosis last year and missed a month. Still weakened, he placed third at section, finishing 17-3.
“My goal is to take state, and show last year was a fluke,” said Robinson.
His 102-36 record includes 26-13 and 31-5 in ninth and 10th grades, making all-Mississippi 8 each year. Last year, he got just honorable mention.
Last spring, he took up Greco-Roman for the first time and was invited to join the Minnesota Storm. He won a state tournament and competed with them at national duals in Oklahoma.
Robinson is formidable in the neutral position, on his feet, almost never giving up a takedown. “I’m pretty self-aware. I’ve been doing this game for a while now. It’s hard to get an ankle against me.” His favored pin moves are cross face cradle and cross face butcher.
Said coach Pat Burch: “Mitch’s broad shoulders and chest present problems for opponents trying to control upper body. His powerful legs give a solid base for attacking and defending.”
The coach describes Robinson as a “mat rat” and longtime student of wrestling. “He has a counter for everything … and enough variety to be unpredictable on the offensive,” said Burch.
In Robinson’s five-year career, he’s had four head coaches — Steve Vevea’s final season, Ponch Hartman for two years, Jeremy Thompson for one and now Burch. An assistant, Aaron Fehr, also works with Robinson a lot.
“It’s kind of hard when coaches leave, because they become like a second father,” said Robinson, “but it’s not so bad because you learn different styles.”
His career mat highlights so far both came in 10th grade: getting ranked for the first time, after winning a Fridley tourney title 12-10 in triple overtime, and beating an Orono foe in a section true-second match to earn a state trip.
In football, Robinson got the Granite Ridge Defensive Lineman of the Year award after making 63 tackles, six for losses, in 10 games. A three-year starter at nose tackle and two years at offensive guard, and a two-time all-GRC pick, he was the lone current player named to ZHS’s Team of the Decade. And he was homecoming king.
Coach Tom Kish said Robinson’s skill sets and combination of explosiveness and power make him special. “He could beat an offensive lineman with both,” said Kish. On offense, Robinson “did a great job finishing his blocks and keeping his feet moving on contact.”
He helped the Thunder win conference his junior year. Asked about football highlights, he said, “The conference championship was really sweet, but also, the guys. They’re family. There’s nothing like the family aspect of football.”
He plans to continue wrestling at Anoka-Ramsey Community College and St. Cloud State.
THE ROBINSON SCORECARD
Personal file – Age: 18 … Family: parents, James and Sabrina; brothers, Matt, 24; Mark, 22; and Mike, 21 … Sports: football, wrestling … Academics: C average …. College plans: Anoka-Ramsey and St. Cloud State, wrestling, possibly electrical engineering
Favorite stuff — Class: English, history … TV shows: “Breaking Bad” and “House” … Food: spaghetti, chicken Alfredo … Drink: “Tons of Sprite in the offseason; about a gallon of milk a day during wrestling” … Teams: Gophers, St. Cloud and Augsburg wrestlers; and Vikings … Athletes: A.J. Hawk, Adrian Peterson … Also enjoys: playing drums for heavy metal and church groups; skateboarding