Winning a state championship as a high school athlete is the pinnacle of achievement. Winning two state titles is a virtual rarity. Winning three state championships in multiple sports is borderline ridiculous.
However, “ridiculous” might be a suitable word to describe the accomplishments of Logan-Rogersville senior Joe Zimmer, who capped his extraordinary prep sports career with a pin of Grain Valley’s Wesley Freeman in the finals of the 195-pound class to finish a 49-0 state championship season on the mat on Feb. 18 at the MSHSAA Wrestling Championships at Mizzou Arena. It marked Zimmer’s second-straight unbeaten, state championship season after a 50-0 campaign at 189 pounds in 2011.
Zimmer was also a captain and two-way standout for the Wildcat football team, which capped a 13-1 season with the school’s first state championship on the gridiron with a dramatic 21-14 victory over John Burroughs last fall. Zimmer is not just an athlete, though, but the consummate student-athlete. Zimmer, who was named to the Class 3 Academic All-State Team by the Missouri Football Coaches Association (MFCA), ranks #4 in his senior class of 155 and carries an impressive 3.98 GPA.
Zimmer’s coaches are not surprised by his success and accomplishments, and rave about his work ethic, dedication and leadership. “He’s quiet, dedicated and very goal-oriented,” said head football coach Doug Smith, the reigning Class 3 Coach of the Year, of Zimmer’s contributions to the football team. “Great players should stand out and he did. He’s a great leader by his actions, because he leads by example.”
“He is one of the best people I have ever met,” said head wrestling coach Jesse Zeugin of Zimmer. “He’s just an all-around good person. If you saw him on the wrestling mat, and then talked to him off of the mat, you would not believe it was the same person. He is great.”
Although sports are an important part of Zimmer’s life, they are not his primary focus. In fact, Zimmer lists his priorities as God, family, education…then sports. “Sports are not that high, because without everything else, sports wouldn’t be what it is for me. Sports are a privilege.”
Family, in particular, is very important to Zimmer. “They have been there for me through thick and thin,” said Zimmer. “Without a strong family, the adversity that comes with the sport of wrestling would be nearly unmanageable.”
Zimmer was two years behind his older brother, Sam, in school, which provided a ready-made role model for Joe to follow after. Sam was also a standout wrestler for the Wildcats, and a three-time state champion.
After winning a state title at 103 pounds as a freshman in 2007, Sam was joined at State in 2009 by Joe, who was making the first of four State-qualifying appearances as a freshman. Sam captured a second state title that year at 125 pounds, while Joe’s State debut resulted in a 6th-place finish at 145 pounds. In 2010, both Sam and Joe advanced to State again. Sam, a senior, capped off his career with his third state championship, while Joe brought home 4th-place medalist honors at 160 pounds.
“Sam has always been my role model,” said Joe of his older brother. “When I saw my brother succeed so much in both football and wrestling, I saw that I needed to make that an expectation as well. It makes winning a lot easier when the path has already been paved.”
In his sophomore season at State, Joe lost to Fulton’s Ryan Fritz in the 3rd-place match. He has not lost a match since. As a junior, Zimmer moved up to the 189-pound weight class, and often wrestled in heavier weight classes during regular season meets to face stiffer competition. Zimmer capped off a 50-0 season with a 9-2 decision over Center’s Alex Taylor to capture his first state championship.
This season, it was more of the same, even with Zimmer moving up to 195 pounds. Zimmer did not even break a sweat in the first round at State, pinning his opponent in just 12 seconds. He followed that up with a 47-second pin of Savannah’s Bryson O’Callaghan in the quarterfinals.
In the state semifinals, Zimmer defeated Moberly’s John Orscheln by a 17-2 technical fall, before pinning Grain Valley’s Freeman in the second round to capture his second-straight state championship. The win ran Zimmer’s winning streak to 99-straight matches. It also marked the fourth-straight year, and five of the past six years, that a Zimmer had captured a state championship at the State Wrestling Championships.
“I was relieved,” said Zimmer of his thoughts immediately following his state championship match this season. “It was something I put a lot of work into. That was my goal and anything else would have been crushing, so it was rewarding but extremely relieving, as well.”
“From the first time I met Joe and got to wrestle with him, I knew he had what it took physically,” said Zeugin of Zimmer’s back-to-back titles. “But being able to do the mental side of something like that is the hardest part. Joe is so mentally tough, though. I knew all along he could do it, but going 99 matches without being caught is really hard to do. That is why there is only one person to ever go all four years of high school undefeated, because everyone gets caught. I was so proud of him. All of his hard work had paid off.”
Zimmer’s influence on the Logan-Rogersville wrestling program is immeasurable. “Well, not just Joe but the whole Zimmer family is the reason we have a wrestling program at LR,” said Zeugin. “They are the ones that got it all started. Joe has helped make other wrestlers on our team realize what it takes to be a champion. They look up to him.”
Zimmer’s exploits on the wrestling mat have earned him a scholarship to wrestle at the University of Nebraska. Zimmer, who also considered Cornell and Minnesota, felt the Cornhuskers were the right fit for him. A noted beast in the weight room, Zimmer will fit right in at Nebraska, which is widely regarded as having the nation’s premiere collegiate strength and conditioning program.
“I really liked the coaches,” said Zimmer. “I liked the guys on the team, and really liked their character. They’re pretty crazy about athletics there. It’s pretty exciting just to go around and look at their facilities. That was a big part of it, too. They clearly have something going on there. It was kind of just the right fit.
“Everyone there (at Nebraska) is (a) multi-time state champion,” added Zimmer. “It’s going to be a challenge. Once I get there, I’ll probably have exponential improvement. That’s not taking away from Rogersville, because I’ve been prepared great here, too. But Nebraska will just have things to offer that I can’t get anywhere around here.”
The Logan-Rogersville football program has been knocking on the door in Class 3 for the past several years, advancing to the state quarterfinals three years straight from 2008-10. The Wildcats were defeated by state power Cassville in the quarterfinals all three seasons, though.
Last fall, rather than knocking on the door, Logan-Rogersville instead just kicked it in, as the Wildcats unleashed a devastating defense and dominating rushing attack on overmatched opponents. Zimmer, who was a 1st-Team All-State linebacker and the Central Ozark Conference (Small Division) Co-Defensive Player of the Year as a junior, picked up last fall where he left off in 2010 by leading the Wildcats in tackles and wreaking havoc on opposing ball carriers.
With 19 seniors back, including 10 offensive starters and 11 seniors on the defensive side of the ball, Logan-Rogersville entered the 2011 season as the top-ranked team in Class 3. Zimmer served as a co-captain, as the Wildcats averaged 35.1 points per game while the defense surrendered just 14.6 per contest. The only blemish on the Wildcats’ 13-1 record was a 41-6 loss at Class 4 power Bolivar, a loss which Logan-Rogersville followed up with an eight-game winning streak. Entering the state title game, Logan-Rogersville had rolled over its opposition, winning seven-straight games by at least 20 points, including a 48-28 demolition of defending state champion Richmond in the state semifinals.
Zimmer, who registered 160 tackles last fall, was named the MFCA Class 3 Defensive Player of the Year. He also made the Defensive “Play” of the Year to secure the state championship in the waning seconds.
After the Wildcats had just taken a 21-14 lead late in the fourth quarter, John Burroughs drove down the field, and had the ball at the Rogersville 15-yard line with 37 seconds to play. On the ensuing play, Bombers’ tailback Ezekiel Elliott burst through a hole in the middle of the Wildcat defense and appeared to have a clear path to the end zone. Zimmer fought through a block and poked the ball out of Elliott’s hands at the 10-yard line. Justin Emery pounced on the loose pigskin and the Wildcats were state champions.
“I was awestruck,” said Zimmer of winning Logan-Rogersville’s first football state title. “It was picture perfect. The road there was grueling, but that feeling of accomplishment mixed with the brotherhood we had made it absolutely unreal. Our team has been very close-knit since we started playing together. All of the time we spent couldn’t have paid off any more. I believe the town of Rogersville deserved it, as well. After all, they’ve been there for us the whole time.”
In addition to his All-State efforts as a linebacker, Zimmer teamed with fellow All-Stater Dylan Cole to form a lethal bruise-and-cruise backfield that rolled over opponents, as both averaged nearly 10 yards per carry. While some might classify Zimmer as the thunder and Cole, with his sprinter’s speed, as the lighting, Zimmer was perfectly capable of breaking off a long run, too.
Zimmer’s big play ability was no more evident than in the Wildcats’ regular season match-up with COC (Small) rival Springfield Catholic. After the Fightin’ Irish had rallied to tie the game 26-26 with less than a minute to play, many fans in attendance believed the Wildcats would simply run out the clock and head to overtime. That is, until Zimmer broke off a 66-yard scamper to the Catholic 2-yard line, which set-up Zach Herman’s game-winning 19-yard field goal as time expired.
“He’s an animal,” said Cole of his fellow backfield mate. “I loved having him on my team and I would have hated to have had him on another team. He was a great leader and led by example. He’s the type of guy that if he has something to say, everyone stops and listens because he’s so respected.”
For the season, Zimmer rushed for 1,440 yards and registered 160 tackles. In addition to All-State honors as a linebacker from the MFCA, he also received the same recognition from the Missouri Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association. Zimmer also was named 1st-Team All-COC (Small) as both a running back and linebacker, and along with Cole was the conference Co-Offensive Player of the Year.
“He’s a big, physical, smart, fast and focused football player,” said Smith. “Joe will be successful in everything he does. He is goal-driven and loves to work hard. I believe he could be an Olympian someday.”
Despite all of his athletic success, Zimmer still finds time for other interests, including singing. “He loves to sing,” said Cole of Zimmer, who is a member of the varsity and chamber choirs at Logan-Rogersville. “He’s always singing.”
Upon first impression, Zimmer carries himself as a confident, but quiet, individual. That is not necessarily the case, though, when he is with his friends. “He used to be quiet, but he loves to joke around,” said Cole. “Around the guys, he’s got a lot to say. He’s very humble and respectable. He’s always a joy to be around.” Cole wanted to be sure and make it known that Zimmer also once modeled for a tuxedo store.
Zimmer’s athletic success is readily apparent, but it is more than that that makes him the epitome of a student-athlete. “Joe is a great student, a member of FCA, and can actually shoot a basketball,” said Smith.
“Joe is an outstanding young man who leads by example,” said Rod Gorman, the Logan-Rogersville Athletic Director. “Joe has represented athletics to the highest degree. He will be successful in whatever he does. Joe is a great athlete, but an even better person.”
There is at least one new Cornhusker fan at Rogersville. “I just became a huge Nebraska fan,” said Zeugin. “The sky is the limit for Joe Zimmer. He will go to Nebraska next fall and wrestle at the Division I level. Joe will succeed academically and on the mat as a Cornhusker. He will graduate and be a successful man in life. I have no doubt about it.
“I would just like to say that I am super proud of Joe and I cannot wait to watch him win a Division I national title,” added Zeugin. “Big 10, watch out! BEAST MODE is coming for you!”
Originally published in the March-April 2012 issueof Ozark Preps Illustrated.