Harrington a monster on the mat, but runt of the family

2013-11-22T11:00:00Z 2013-11-22T11:18:10Z Harrington a monster on the mat, but runt of the familyJIM NELSON jim.nelson@wcfcourier.com Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

WATERLOO | Jeff Harrington can be an intimidating presence.

It could be his 6-foot-4 frame with the badge on his chest and the gun on his hip signifying him as a member of the Waterloo Police Department.

Some may also know him from the exploits of his oldest son, Jordan, a 6-foot-5, 285-pound offensive tackle for Division II St. Cloud State.

Others recognize Jeff through his youngest son, Marcus, or as they like to call him around Waterloo West High School and in the Twitter universe -- Mr. 88.

Marcus, at just 6-feet and a chiseled 195 pounds, became the Wahawks' 88th state wrestling champion last February and has signed to wrestle for Iowa State.

"He is the runt," Jeff laughed.

Much of the singular focus and dedication the youngest Harrington has used to become a champion wrestler can be traced back to a simple edict from his father -- get active or go to work.

"I never pushed them into athletics," Jeff said. "I've taught my boys a few things, and one of those things is you are either going to be active in school whether that be band or show choir or athletics and if not you are going to work.

"It didn't matter what activity, but they weren't going to be allowed to just go to school then come home and do nothing."

In Jeff Harrington's mind, a busy son was better than one with too much free time.

Luckily for Jeff, both of his sons found something they were passionate about. For Jordan, that was football. For Marcus, who excelled at both football and baseball growing up, it was wrestling.

"There was another part of that, as well. They had to have the grades to participate and they both understood that," Jeff said.

Jeff Harrington was naturally pleased when his sons gravitated toward athletics, but he isn't certain how wrestling emerged as Marcus' sport of choice, although he has a good idea.

Harrington is a native of Chicago's south side and wrestling wasn't even offered at his high school. He landed in Iowa when he came to play football at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, where he met his wife, Suzie and they eventually started their family.

After moving to Waterloo and when his sons became school age, the Harringtons enrolled them in the Don Bosco school system where Marcus was introduced to wrestling for the first time as a second-grader.

When Marcus transferred to Orange Elementary as a third-grader, Jeff took the Student Resources Officer position at Logan Middle School where he met the late Willie Gadson, the East High wrestling coach.

Gadson took Marcus under his wing at the Future Trojan Wrestling Club and although it wasn't pretty in the beginning, Harrington blossomed as a wrestler under Gadson.

"I wasn't so sure at first," Jeff recalled. "I used to look at Willie and tell him, 'Look, my son has two left feet. He can't even warm up right.' And Willie would fire back at me to relax and said it would come. He was right."

"He was a big influence," Marcus added of Gadson. "He was coaching the high school team and those kids, and it gave me kids to look up to and say I want to accomplish some of the things they are doing."

The lessons and appreciation for wrestling carried over when Marcus enrolled at West High and began to blossom even further under current Wahawk head coach Brett Wheelan three years ago.

"What an awesome family, Jeff, Suzie, Jordan ... all of them are great people," Wheelan said. "And working with them, and I tell you I have the best group of parents, has been awesome.

"When Marcus got here, Jeff told me, 'I'm in charge at home, you are in charge when he is not at home,' and that is basically how it's been ever since. If they have ever questioned anything I've done with Marcus, I haven't heard about it from them."

As a freshman, Marcus also made one of the most difficult decisions he's ever had to make. He loved playing baseball and football and played on the West freshman football team, but he had goals he wanted to meet as a wrestler so he gave up his other two favorite sports.

"Winning in those sports didn't have the same effect on me as winning in wrestling did," Marcus said. "When I won a football or baseball game it felt good, but when I won in wrestling it felt like a real accomplishment for me and when I lost it was a lot harder to take. The sport really had a bigger impact on me."

Injuries slowed Harrington's first two seasons as a varsity regular for the Wahawks, but the promise was there and finally realized as a junior when Harrington lost his first match of the season before reeling off 50 consecutive wins, including topping Waverly-Shell Rock's Adam Walther for the 195-pound state title last February.

That win just fueled the fire to get better for Harrington, who raced into the offseason with another set of goals.

Harrington wrestled all over this past summer, including Oklahoma City and Las Vegas, and earned All-America honors in Fargo, N.D., at Junior Nationals where his stock rose immensely. He had numerous college offers, including one he couldn't turn down from Iowa State. That's where Harrington will follow one of his idols as a youth, Willie's son Kyven. The Cyclones' current 197-pound starter, Kyven Gadson is also the person Harrington is projected to replace in ISU's lineup in a couple of years.

Harrington said people won't recognize him as a wrestler this season.

"I've definitely seen myself grow in the past year," Marcus said. "I've been getting better and better. I look back at recent matches, even last year at state, I'm really critical of the stuff I was doing back then. I'm a whole different wrestler than what I was even back in March. I can just tell I'm a lot better and more sound in my technique."

His father is proud of how he has approached and gone after his goals and probably prouder knowing Marcus intends to follow his career path by studying criminology/criminal justice in college.

But Jeff does have one regret in how he raised Marcus and Jordan, who on occasion will roll around inside the Harrington house.

"I'm always saying, 'Boys take it outside,'" Jeff laughs. "There is one rule I will always regret as I told my wife I'd never punish one of my boys for breaking something in the house ... and man I've replaced lamps, chairs ..."

On the other hand, some things are priceless.

Copyright 2015 Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(2) Comments

  1. Alexi Davenport
    Report Abuse
    Alexi Davenport - March 10, 2014 2:26 pm
    My brothers were very involved in athletics while we were all growing up. It was fun to see how we all specialized in something different, just like these two boys choosing football and wrestling. I was always a softball player, while my sister chose cheer. I think it's great to have variety in a family to make every person unique! I hope Marcus does well at Iowa State and anywhere else he chooses to wrestle.
    Alexi | https://www.defairplan.com/index.aspx?pg=coverage
  2. Wahawk Fan
    Report Abuse
    Wahawk Fan - November 26, 2013 6:50 pm
    Hey... are there no other wrestlers on the team this year?? What about talking about the whole team and not just one athlete. Harrington is awesome but what about his TEAM mates? Go WAHAWKS!
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