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Steve Mocco now a member of the Oklahoma State football team



STILLWATER, Okla. - Steve Mocco has worn Oklahoma State orange time and again.

Never, though, quite like this.

The wrestling stud is playing football for the Cowboys. You read right. Mocco, a two-time NCAA heavyweight wrestling champ who became a cult hero with his pre-match staredowns and his in-match domination, is now a member of the OSU football team.

He is absent from the media guide and missing from the roster on OSU's Web site, but he is listed on the Cowboys' preseason roster.

Defensive tackle.

No. 69.

Mocco was live and in the orange Saturday during the team's media day and fan appreciation day. Because a team rule prohibits first-year players from talking to the media -- even fifth-year seniors who've wrestled all over the world and done countless interviews -- we don't know exactly what motivated Mocco to give football a whirl. Talking to teammates and coaches, though, we do know this.

It's not a gimmick.

It's for real.

Teammates say Mocco is, too.

"He could be something," defensive tackle Xavier Lawson-Kennedy said. "He could really do something, not just, 'Oh, he's Steve Mocco. He's a 15-time world champ wrestler.' He can really make plays."

The 15-time-world-champ comment might be a stretch, but thinking Mocco could do some damage on the football field is not.

Now, that's not to say that he's going to have the same kind of success he had in wrestling. But he's done in that sport collegiately, but has a year of eligibility in a second sport of his choice -- and it looks like he chose football.

But heck, Mocco might not even make it through two-a-days. In a few weeks, he might fade away. That just doesn't seem to be his style.

"He's an intense guy," said OSU wrestling coach John Smith, who won six consecutive world championships and knows a thing or two about intensity, "and whatever he does, he's going to go hard."

Smith paused.

"I don't know what that's going to mean for him in football."

Too early to say, really, but at the very least, he knows what it takes to be a successful athlete. His training regimen is the stuff of legend in the wrestling community. He works out two and three times a day. He throws himself into his training. He sells out to the process.

That is what Mocco has done with football. After he finished the World Team Trials earlier this summer, advancing to the finals but falling just short of making the U.S. team, he turned his attention entirely to football.

That doesn't mean his wrestling career is over. Mocco has long talked about his intentions of making the Olympic team, and that goal remains.

"Our plan with Steve is, at the end of the season, to go right back to wrestling," Smith said.

For now, football is the focus.

"Nobody questions his work ethic because it's already there," offensive lineman Corey Hilliard said. "Just looking at it from metabolics and summer workouts, he can move. He's got quick hands and stuff.

"He's an athlete, man."

Hilliard has first-hand experience. Last spring, he and fellow offensive lineman Steve Denning agreed to work out a bit in the wrestling room with Mocco. Both are big, tall lads -- Hilliard is 6-foot-5, 310 pounds while Denning is 6-4, 285 -- and they could give Mocco a different look and a new challenge.

"This isn't going to be too bad," they figured.

Hilliard laughs now at their braggadocio.

"We forgot he was a two-time champion," he said of Mocco.

The first day, Mocco shot in on Hilliard, wrapping up his legs and taking down his opponent. Hilliard crashed to the mat.

"After that first day," Hilliard said, "it didn't happen no more."

Even though Mocco is a world-class athlete, he's a first-time football player. He has never played football at a high level. Not in high school. Not even in middle school. Since he was about 8 years old, he's been focused solely on wrestling. No doubt he's seen games, but he never focused on the intricacies. Even something as basic as the three-point stance is foreign.

"It's things you think he would know, but he's a wrestler," Lawson-Kennedy said. "It'd be just like me going to wrestling -- 'I do what?' "

Mocco is starting to learn the techniques for breaking free of offense linemen. Spins. Chops.

Even though snaps will be tough to come by on the defensive line -- Ryan McBean and Larry Brown are set to start with reserves Lawson-Kennedy and Jeray Chatham -- teams can never have too many defensive linemen. Coaches love to rotate players, keeping them fresh, wearing down the offense.

Mocco could contribute.

"I could see him getting 20 to 30 snaps a game," Lawson-Kennedy said.

Smith said, "If he can help, I'm sure he'll be excited about the opportunity. He's really excited about playing. It's something he wanted to do.

"The only difference is, he's got to let them up if he falls down on them."

Jenni Carlson:475-4125, jcarlson@oklahoman.com
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