Wrestling: Uthman Rabiu and Clayton Jennissen continue their friendship as coaches with Woodbury
First, they were opponents.
It's been a long journey for Uthman Rabiu and Clayton Jennissen, but a friendship was formed and when the opportunity to coach together at Woodbury High School, they couldn't say no.
"We both have that passion for the sport of wrestling," Rabiu said. "Now, we get to show that love and passion to younger wrestlers, which is great to see."
Rabiu and Jennissen took two different journeys to St. Cloud State, but they used each other to push and motivate one another to accomplish big goals throughout their years of wrestling.
Rabiu started wrestling in seventh grade and went to Henry Sibley for high school. He was on the school's wrestling team, but the sport didn't click for him until his sophomore year.
He started to enjoy the sport more and more with the competition he was facing and, eventually, he went to state during his senior year. Rabiu placed fourth at state, but wrestling wasn't his only sport.
Rabiu played soccer as well, but wrestling was always his primary sport. Even though Rabiu wanted a college scholarship and continued to prove himself, his coach thought Rabiu wasn't ready for the Division II level.
"I knew in my heart that this something I could do in college," Rabiu said. "It was also nice because I wasn't going to St. Cloud State alone."
Jennissen was heading there with him, but he wasn't entirely sure where he was going until his senior year of high school.
Jennissen started wrestling at three years old and the sport of wrestling went through his family. His father was the wrestling coach at Cambridge-Isanti High School, so Jennissen grew up with the sport.
He would compete at local tournaments at a young age and ended up on varsity in seventh grade. Jennissen had to start at smaller weight classes, but became stronger in his eighth grade year that he became more noticeable to his opponents.
One of those opponents was Rabiu and two competed against each other probably four or five times throughout their high school season. The most important match between the two friends was at the state tournament their senior year.
Jennissen defeated Rabiu to earn the third place title, while Rabiu finished fourth to finish out their wrestling careers in high school.
Rabiu knew St. Cloud State would be good fit for him since it's close to home and it has a strong wrestling program for Division II. Jennissen, on the other hand, had to choose between wrestling and football.
Jennissen received offers from Division III schools for football, but had St. Cloud State interested for wrestling.
"After not winning my senior year at state, I felt like I needed to prove something," Jennissen said. "I decided wrestling would be my sport in college and it paid off really well."
Rabiu and Jennissen were both excited that each of them were going to be a Huskie, but were intimidated by practices and how hard these wrestlers worked just in practice. The two were redshirted their first year, which allowed them to bond even more as teammates and friends.
As a redshirt athlete, you aren't allowed to travel with the team to duals or even wear the St. Cloud State gear. Instead, the two of them had to bring their own singlets to tournaments and competitions and had to pay for their traveling as well.
"The coaches would help us during practices to become a better wrestler," Rabiu said. "We just couldn't compete as a St. Cloud State wrestler at duals and other tournaments."
The two of them remember going down to the state of Iowa for many weekend tournaments. They would have to wrestle on their own while the coaches looked from afar, but both of them said it helped them become a better coach for themselves since they had to correct their own mistakes.
Rabiu and Jennissen weren't just attached to the hip at the wrestling events, but they also lived on the same floor their first year and went to similar classes around campus. There wasn't a day where Rabiu and Jennissen didn't see each other on campus or in their living areas.
Jennissen also invited Rabiu up to his house in Cambridge for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"We saw each other at home, practice and in the classroom," Jennissen said. "We did everything together and that's what built the chemistry throughout those years."
The two of them had successful careers as Huskies, which allowed the two to become team captains their senior year. Both of them were honored to have that "C" on their chest.
Rabiu and Jennissen had many fond memories at St. Cloud State, but one in particular came to mind when asked, and it happened their senior year.
St. Cloud State was heading down to Upper Iowa for a dual in the regular season, but the two are big rivals and the Huskies head coach decided to get a hotel for the team. He didn't get a hotel near Upper Iowa, instead it was in Rochester.
The Huskies didn't even practice at Upper Iowa and instead practiced at a local high school in Rochester. The coach was worried about the environment and he didn't want to take any risks with any of his wrestlers.
St. Cloud State ended up winning that dual with a 27-12 final score, but those, along with others, are great memories those two will hold onto for a long time.
Jennissen and Rabiu received All-American honors during the 2015-16 season and both of them wanted to continue with the sport of wrestling after graduating from St. Cloud State.
Rabiu was a wrestling coach at St. Paul Johnson High School and focused on heavier weights. He helped one of the heavier weight wrestlers reach the state tournament and knew he wanted to continue coaching for a long time.
Jennissen became a salesman at a steel company in Coon Rapids and had that itch to get back in the sport of wrestling. Justin Smith, the Woodbury wrestling coach, knew he wanted both of these guys on his team of coaches.
"They competed at a high level in college and knows what it takes to get to a state tournament," Smith said. "I knew they could help this program and so I decided to try and recruit them to be a Royal."
It didn't take to much recruiting before both of them accepted positions at Woodbury for this upcoming wrestling season.
Rabiu and Jennissen are both excited to continue the sport of wrestling, but in a different aspect. They want to help younger wrestlers learn the fundamentals of the sport, so they can reach their goals of becoming a state champion or a college athlete someday.
"There's a mental side of this sport that many high school wrestlers don't understand," Jennissen said. "We're hoping that we can teach them that besides just cutting weight and wrestling."
The two want to teach wrestling moves and wrestling mindsets before teaching how to cut weight and such. It's not a necessary aspect until college when the body has fully grown and you can control it better.
Rabiu and Jennissen are glad the two of them went to St. Cloud State together because they wouldn't have become great friends like they are today. Now, they are great friends and hope to be great coaches at Woodbury High School.
"I love wrestling," Rabiu said. "I'm just glad I get to keep enjoying the sport after my college years."
"The sport of wrestling has been a big part of my life," Jennissen said. "I'm just glad I get to teach my passion and love for this game to other younger wrestlers now."