It's not easy to see the big picture when you finish most of your wrestling matches looking at the ceiling.
A two-win freshman season challenged Zach Keilman's resolve, but it didn't deter the Boone Grove sophomore.
"It was definitely tough to stay with," Keilman said, "but you have to tough it out, remember why you're there, to try to improve yourself. It's like a gut check."
Keilman had played football dating back several years. He only took up wrestling in ninth grade at the suggestion of Tony Girgenti, an assistant coach in both sports who excelled on the field and the mat at Portage High School.
"He thought it could help out with my blocking skills," Keilman said. "Hands, balance and footwork are three things that are important in both sports. As a defensive lineman, you can learn better tackling form through takedowns. It conditions you."
Wrestling certainly benefited Keilman, who started on both sides of the line for the Wolves in their first full varsity football season. He's also made marked progress in a singlet, fashioning a 14-10 record at 220 pounds.
"It's definitely an improvement," Keilman said. "I'm feeling like I can do more. Last year, I pretty much just hoped to see what I learned. Now I know what I'm doing and think I can go out and win the match. I'm anxious to see how the rest of the year goes, to keep progressing leading up to the sectional. I'm working toward trying to advance out of sectional and possibly in future years get to semistate or state."
The connection between the sports was strengthened when football assistant coach Bill Burford took over as head wrestling coach.
"It's a good fit," Keilman said. "Having experienced him as a coach in both sports, it helps knowing what he expects from you through your performance. His intention as a coach is for everyone to go out and do the best they can every match."
That's exactly what Burford's gotten out of Keilman, his best.
"He's just a great all-around kid who's a joy to coach," Burford said. "He's no world beater. He's not going to wow you with any amazing moves. His technique isn't real sharp. He just grinds it out and finds a way to win sometimes. If he sticks with it, as a senior, maybe he'll have a chance to get to (state)."
Burford also named Keilman a captain in hopes of building his leadership skills.
"He's a reserved, quiet kid," Burford said. "We want him to take the bull by the horns, step up to the plate and be more vocal. As a sophomore, it's hard to tell juniors and seniors what to do, but our team's young and the kids look up to him."
The role and its responsibilities are something Keilman doesn't take lightly.
"It's a very honorable position," he said. "It's something I never expected, being a sophomore. It's surprising that they think that much of me, to be a leader. I have to make sure we're ready for meets. Usually, I'm a pretty easygoing guy. Last year, there were matches I wish I could take back, where if I was more prepared, I could've won. Once I put that headgear or helmet on now, I'm more serious, more competitive."