EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As a high-school senior, college recruiters believed John Flannery had a better future as a wrestler than as a football player.
But Flannery has put his wrestling skills to good use as the star center on Syracuse's football team, becoming a leading candidate for the Outland and Lombardi trophies.
'Every time I talk to people really serious about football and in furthering their football career, especially high-school and junior-high people, I tell them the best thing to do to improve their football game is to wrestle,' he said.
Flannery played both sports at Pottsville (Pa.) High School, and the consensus was that he was a better wrestler. He compiled a 60-9 record, winning the state heavyweight title as a senior in 1986.
Recruiters offered him wrestling scholarships, but Syracuse was one of the few Division I-A schools to offer him a football scholarship.
'When I was playing high-school ball and looking around, I really could not have forseen going to a Division I school,' Flannery said. 'I remember watching in 1984 when Syracuse beat Nebraska on television. That was the first time I had heard of Syracuse as a football program. In 1986 I received a phone call from the coaches, but I still didn't know much about Suracuse football.'
That all changed with one visit to the campus and the Carrier Dome.
'Any high-school senior sees the facilities we have now -- that kind of hooks you right away,' he said. 'I started to look into what I saw, and Syracuse had a program on the rise.'
Flannery didn't take long to make an impact. He started 10 games at left guard as a freshman, missing one game because of a sprained ankle, and has been a fixture ever since at his natural position of center.
Now 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds, Flannery said his quick improvement can be attributed to his wrestling.
'Wrestling does a lot of things for you -- improves your agility, your footspeed, your corrdination,' he said. 'It especially helps your flexibility and prevents inzo
'I feel wrestling has played a big part in getting me where I'm at today in my football career. At center, I don't have the luxury of other guys where all they have to do is block. I have to worry about snapping and blocking a guy an inch-and-a-half from my head. The quickness and footspeed that I have gotten from wrestling has easily transferred to the center position.'
Syracuse Coach Dick MacPherson is quick to tout Flannery for postseason honors.
'John Flannery is the best center in the country and one of the best offensive linemen in the country,' MacPherson said. 'He's an outstanding 305-pound athlete that vertical jumps over 30 inches and runs under 4.9 (seconds in the 40-yard dash). He's a fabulous guy.'
The Syracuse wrestling coaches also think highly of him. Flannery says he has been approached more than once to join the Orangemen wrestling program, but he has turned them down each time.
'Football's always been my first love,' he said.