INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – When it came time to make a decision, a record-setting wrestler from wrestling-intense Iowa gave in to his passion for football.
“I love playing football and I wanted to do it in college,” said Austin Blythe.
He did, and at a high level for an extended time at the University of Iowa.
Impressed with a resume that spanned 48 starts, including 45 straight to end his Hawkeye career, and being one of three finalists for the Rimington Award, the Indianapolis Colts selected Blythe with one of their seventh-round picks in the NFL Draft.
They got a 6-3, 290-pounder with the versatility to play center or guard. Smart? Blythe scored a 37 (out of 50) on the Wonderlic test at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Offensive line coach Joe Philbin was impressed with Blythe when he put him through a pre-draft workout.
“One thing about Iowa offensive linemen, they always are so technically sound,” general manager Ryan Grigson said. “It’s a credit to (Iowa coach) Kirk Ferentz. They do a great job and Joe Philbin goes way back with Kirk.
“You usually can’t go wrong with an Iowa guy.”
This guy is as Iowa as it gets.
Yes, Blythe was accomplished on the football field at Williamsburg H.S.: two-way standout – offensive line, defensive line – and two-time first-team all-state selection; team captain as a senior; a 28-5 record over his final three years.
All of that might have been overshadowed, though, by Blythe’s wrestling exploits in a state where wrestling rules. The three-day state tournament routinely and easily fills the 17,000-seat Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
“Wrestling is a huge tradition in Iowa,” Blythe said. “The state tournament is one of the biggest in the country.
“It was fun to be a part of that.”
After finishing second as a freshman, he won three consecutive state heavyweight championships. He finished with a 187-11 record, including a state-record 143 pins.
Blythe was asked if he knew the various details of his decorated prep career.
“Yeah, I do,” he said with a smile. “Those are good accomplishments and something I can share with my kids if they ever want to wrestle. Good to have.”
The numbers aside, the skills that elevated Blythe to an elite level on the mat have transferred to the football field.
“Wrestling helps any football player whether it’s offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, whatever,” he said. “Just the instinct that you have to have as a wrestler: body control, understanding leverage. It just goes very hand-in-hand and it has helped me a lot.”
Blythe was the fourth offensive lineman drafted by the Colts, and second center. They used the 18th overall pick on Alabama’s Ryan Kelly.
During the recent rookie minicamp, Blythe saw extensive work at guard. His splits at Iowa: 32 starts at center, 16 at left and right guard.
“I consider myself an offensive lineman,” he said. “I don’t really stand up and introduce myself as a center or a guard. It’s offensive line. That’s what I was taught at Iowa.
“You don’t come into the NFL playing a position. You play offensive line whether it be guard, center, whatever. I’m trying to learn everything I can to help out in any way I can.”
However it shakes out, Blythe’s wrestling background will prove invaluable. Competition is part of his DNA.
“Just the one-on-one nature of it,” Blythe said. “Getting your hand raised at the end of your match is a good feeling knowing that you beat the other guy by yourself.
“Obviously a coach is coaching you, but it’s just you out on the mat. You’re responsible for your own actions and ultimately winning.”