Frankie Gissendanner, anyone could argue with a long line of backers, is one of the top high school wrestlers in the United States.
Penfield wrestling coach John Leone has little doubt that a bunch’ of Division I college programs, including teams that compete for national championships, will offer Gissendanner a place at their schools.
Gissendanner’s combination of size, speed and strength made him attractive to those wrestling programs, and maybe two or three wins away from representing the United States at the United World Wrestling Cadet Freestyle Championships.
Yet, every weekend this fall, the two-time state wrestling champion — all 5-feet 7-inches of this junior — is getting knocked around on the football field as a member of the two-win Patriots team.
And he loves it. When it comes to football, Gissendanner’s physical gifts are much closer to the middle of the pack. He expects to dominate on a wrestling mat, pushing and bending opponents at will but he doesn’t mind getting pushed around and knocked down on a football team that was outscored 118-49 in its first three games.
“I grew up with a football family,’’ Gissendanner said. “I always had, when I was younger, the dream of playing in the NFL, before I started to wrestle. If they said I could make the pros tomorrow, I would be in the pros tomorrow, if that was the case.
“I just always loved football, and I would never not do it, unless I had no choice.’’
There are high school athletes his age nowhere near Gissendanner’s status in wrestling who concentrate on their top sport and drop all others. It is part protection for an investment, guarding against injury, and a deeper commitment of sorts, to the sport that could help a fund a college education.
Yet, there is Gissendanner running around wearing a helmet and pads each week, enjoying making tackles, darting around the field carrying a football or doing anything else that could help a Penfield football team with a 2-5 record.
Gissendanner said that he would like to find a way to play running back for a college football team and wrestle. There are linemen who do both sports, according to Gissendanner. He has played on offense, defense and on Penfield’s special teams.
And wrestle? He hasn’t lost a sanctioned high school match in 94 straight outings.
But there’s this football thing he loves.
“He was much more of an offensive threat,” Pittsford coach Keith Molinich said. “We game-planned not to let him into the open field. I think his ability to catch (and run with) screen passes is where he is most dangerous.
“He’s dynamic, he’s quick. It’s very difficult to breakdown on him correctly (to tackle).”
Gissendanner took an option pitch 31 yards for a touchdown against Rush-Henrietta in Week 2. He later went under center as an option quarterback. The two-time state wrestling champion even can be found on the line of scrimmage as a defensive lineman. At 5-7! Yet, he doesn’t hesitate to do it.
He brings plenty of enthusiasm, according to Penfield athletic director Pete Shambo, including as a teammate during unified basketball at the school in which teams include students with and without disabilities. He also knows how to do the get-fired-up at halftime football speech to teammates.
“You know, the thing about him is, he’s a competitor,” first-year Penfield coach Jay Johnson said. “I just want people who want to compete. He wants to help, I’ll take 30 of those kids. He doesn’t have anything to prove, but he works hard every practice. I’ll take 100 of those kids. That’s what’s starting to be the norm.
“He’ll play anywhere. I’ve had him at nose tackle. I have had him at linebacker. He played cornerback. For someone who comes from an individual sport, he’s a great teammate.”
Gissendanner is also a great wrestler. In July, he became just the second wrestler in Section V to win a USA Wrestling national championship in Fargo, North Dakota. It was reported that Gissendanner dominated the 152-pound cadet freestyle division.
Iowa, North Carolina State and Penn State have shown some level of interest in recruiting Gissendanner — for, wrestling, of course.
“That threw him to the top (of his recruiting class),” Leone said. “I’m not sure how it works in football, but he’s like a five-star recruit. He’s on almost all of their radar.”
Leone said that it’s good for high school athletes to take a break from a sport. He knows that Gissendanner will ramp up his training the closer the calendar is to November.
But he’s still in football season and right now football is where his focus is.
“It’s the whole thing,” Gissendanner said. “A touchdown, getting a tackle or getting a sack, I just love the game. I’ve built up such an IQ and just mental toughness, even just the heart (aspect). My heart has gotten bigger from football, especially when it gives me challenges.
“It’s different from wrestling. I’m not relying on someone in wrestling, I have to go do it regardless. In football, it’s a team, so it really shows me that you have to go do your 1/11th, and if you don’t, you just failed the team. That’s what I like about the sport.”
The football season at Penfield is almost over; the Patriots play at Churchville-Chili, 6 p.m. Thursday in one of the consolation games known as Connors & Ferris Bowl.
And then it’s time to wrestle. Gissendanner, undefeated the past two seasons, is 188-10 in his career.
Not bad for a 5-foot-7 nose tackle/running back/defensive end/special teams player.