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McZiggy zigging to the top

McZiggy zigging to the top


Fri, Jan 13. 2012

McZiggy Richards was already an accomplished athlete, an undoubted future college scholarship soccer player. He played goalkeeper for the St. Vincent Under 17 national team and starred for Wingate in net.{{more}}

What he did two years ago, though, was flatout unbelievable. Richards began wrestling for Wingate as a sophomore, his first year in the country, and right off the bat won state titles in freestyle and Greco-Roman.

“It’s freakish,” Wingate coach Steve Flanagan said. “He was literally wrestling four months, five months and then won a state title, which is very impressive. That doesn’t happen usually.”

Wingate senior McZiggy Richards has won state and city titles as a wrestler to go along with his U19 soccer national team pedigree in St. Vincent.

Richards, 17, is not your typical athlete. He’s a sculpted, 6-foot-2 and 182 pounds with massive hands. Flanagan, who coached girls soccer, first met him on the field two years ago and was sold on him being a potential wrestling star just by shaking his hand.

“His finger was like scratching my elbow,” the coach said. “I was like alright, you’re in.”

Richards was far from sold upon his first entrance into Wingate’s wrestling room. There is no such sport in St. Vincent and it wasn’t the kind of wrestling he saw on television.

“I was like what the hell is this?” Richards says now with a laugh. “I thought it was WWE at first.”

He has grown to love it now, though he has faced some resistance. His parents aren’t in love with him wrestling – they’re worried about injuries. His grandmother would prefer him to focus on soccer. His friends back home in St. Vincent – he returns there often to compete on the U19 national soccer team – thought he was playing rugby.

“I like it a lot now,” Richards said. “From Day One to day now is a big gap.”

It hasn’t hurt that he’s so successful. Initially, Flanagan said Richards just used his superior strength to bully the opposition. Now, two years in, he has become a true technician.

Richards won a match at states (freestyle and Greco are separate) last year and this season he’s a favorite. He also was a PSAL city champ last year and won the Mayor’s Cup at 182. This season, Richards has already dominated in top-notch Long Island tournaments at Baldwin, North Babylon and Long Beach.

“The stuff that really got me was when you got into competition, he was a gamer,” Flanagan said. “He really stepped up in the matches. That’s when you know you have a kid. You can look great in this practice room, but then you put them on the mat in front of a crowd and everybody else and they kind of shy away. Ziggy is the opposite. He thrives when he’s in that spotlight.”

Playing soccer might have helped in that respect. But that’s really where the similarities between the two sports end, he said. In soccer, Richards says, you’re only as good as your team, especially when you’re a keeper. In wrestling, you’re on your own.

The training is also very different. Preparation for wrestling is different than most sports. His soccer coaches, Richards said, never cared what he ate and drank. But he’s changed his entire diet for wrestling, sticking to healthy foods instead of burgers and soda.

“You have to eat like a champion, basically,” he said. “After awhile you realize what you want and you have to sacrifice to achieve what you want. You have to be disciplined.”

He’s also emerged as a leader for Wingate, a team with PSAL city title hopes in just its fifth year. Richards still loves soccer and he wants to do both in college, but he knows that’ll be very difficult on the Division I level, where he is receiving interest in both.

He never expected to be a wrestling champion – he never even knew what wrestling was until he was 15. It all goes back to that fateful day when he shook Flanagan’s hand.

“He was like, ‘Holy [crap]! You’re trying out for the wrestling team,’” Richards said with a bright smile.

He’s left similar exclamations in his wake.(New York Post)