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Ravens rookie Bronson Rechsteiner has put professional wrestling on hold to embrace his passion for football

There was a time when Bronson Rechsteiner loved the weight room too much, when he quested after 700-pound squats more than 70-yard touchdowns.

He'd grown up around men whose sculpted physiques stood out even in the body-obsessed world of professional wrestling. So his devotion to becoming a walking “meat stick" came honestly. Hoisting slabs of iron felt as natural to him as brushing his teeth in the morning.

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Not until his junior season at Kennesaw State — a year waylaid by injuries suffered in weight training — did Rechsteiner realize his love might be slightly misplaced.

“I was a huge, huge weight-room guy, have been my whole life,” he said recently. “But I had to take a step back and realize there’s a balance. … I wasn’t playing, so I had some time to reflect, and it woke me up. I stopped squatting 700 and benching 500, crazy stuff like that. I just did enough to keep myself in shape and ready for football instead of ready for lifting.”

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With that shift in priorities, Rechsteiner made himself an interesting enough prospect that the Ravens signed him as an undrafted free-agent fullback earlier this month.

Bronson Rechsteiner, Kennesaw State
Bronson Rechsteiner, Kennesaw State (Kyle Hess/Kyle Hess/KSU Athletics)

Yes, the 22-year-old Rechsteiner still plans to become a professional wrestler, following in the footsteps of his father, Rick, and his uncle Scott. (Or the “Dog Faced Gremlin” and “Big Poppa Pump,” if you’re partial to stage names.)

And yes, he’s still the gym rat who inspired his college strength coach, Jim Kiritsy, to reach for the term “freak show.”

But he no longer sees fast sprints or hefty lifts as ends unto themselves. He’s no longer looking past football to the glitz of the squared circle, and that’s why he has a real chance to play in the NFL less than a year after he had to fight for his starting job at Kennesaw State.

“I think he had to get to the point where he had the same passion for football that he had for training and lifting,” his college head coach, Brian Bohannon, said. “Not to say he didn’t like football. But there’s a difference when you’re trying to be elite. That’s the biggest difference we saw his senior year.”

Growing up in Acworth, Georgia, (about 30 miles outside Atlanta), Rechsteiner could not have escaped competition even if he wanted. Before they became television stars for World Championship Wrestling, his father and uncle excelled as amateur wrestlers at the University of Michigan (where they knew John Harbaugh’s brother, Jim). His mother, Jamye, played softball at Oklahoma State. His older brothers, Hudson and Maveric, wrestled and played football.

Bronson Rechsteiner, Kennesaw State
Bronson Rechsteiner, Kennesaw State (Kyle Hess/Kyle Hess/Kennesaw State Athletics)

Rick padded the basement of the family’s home with wrestling mats. If Rechsteiner and his brothers could not get along, dad sent them downstairs to fight it out. Other times, he’d cook up a big pot of the chili for the family to eat while the boys raced to see who could split logs the fastest. Rechsteiner was sprinting up and down hills by the time he reached high school.

“I learned at a young age that I had to perform at a certain level to meet standards,” he said.

“Even though he’d win some, I’d say, ‘Eh, that wasn’t good enough,’” Rick recalled. “If you beat everybody, I wanted you to pin them all. If you ran for two touchdowns, you should’ve had three. I never kept the bar where he would be satisfied.”

Rechsteiner was 5 or 6 years old when he recognized that, to the wider world, his father and uncle were not just Rick and Scotty. They were the Steiner Brothers, a pair of outlandish specimens who wowed audiences from Tokyo to Atlanta with their stupefying blend of power and agility. Rick was perhaps the louder personality in everyday life but played the more stolid partner. After many years as a fan favorite, Scott dyed his hair blond, spoke as an over-the-top ladies’ man and flexed biceps that put even Hulk Hogan to shame.

A different kid might have rolled his eyes at the wrestling world or grown tired of being described as Rick Steiner’s son. But Rechsteiner unabashedly loved the entire spectacle. He inhaled clips of old Steiner Brothers matches and envisioned himself as the next Goldberg or “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. His dad introduced him to WCW legends such as Lex Luger, Sting, Kevin Nash and Ric Flair. Even his name, taken from action-movie star Charles Bronson, prophesied a guy who’d adore the spotlight.

“He embraced it,” Rick said. “He actually liked the notoriety at school and in college.”

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For his freshman talent show at Kennesaw, Rechsteiner donned tights and cut a wrestling promo on one of his teammates. He’s long said that after football, he’ll take his shot at the family business, perhaps in a 2.0 version of the Steiner Brothers with Maveric, who was a college wrestling champion.

Rick, who sells real estate and serves on the local school board (yes, the “Dog Faced Gremlin” crafts education policy), acknowledged mixed feelings about his youngest son’s aspirations.

“I didn’t want to push it on them,” he said. “If it’s something he wants to do, I’ll help him with it. But he’s got plenty of time for that. I’d rather see him excel at football, because if he does that, wrestling would be easy.”

Rechsteiner excelled in multiple sports at Etowah High School, winning a state championship in wrestling and playing slot receiver and linebacker for the football team.

Kennesaw State only began playing football in 2015, but Bohannon quickly had the Owls winning enough to vie for top-25 status in the Football Championship Subdivision classification. He recruited Rechsteiner as a linebacker who looked up to Ray Lewis and embraced the “dark-side defensive mentality.”

“He was returning kicks for touchdowns at 225 pounds in high school,” Bohannon said. “He’d rush off the edge. He did it all.”

Rechsteiner arrived as a self-motivated weight-lifting addict, the kind who’d wake up early to gobble a Waffle House breakfast so he’d have enough carbs in his body to fuel a 600-pound squat. “That mentality he learned of having to fight to be the best in his house, he brought to the way he trained,” said Kiritsy, the Kennesaw strength coach.

He described his star pupil as “a heavy-metal guy living in a hip-hop land,” words that made Rechsteiner chuckle when he heard them on a recent phone call.

“We did some crazy stuff in there,” he said.

It’s easy to picture Rechsteiner, who moved to offense his sophomore year, flattening defenders with his carved-from-granite physique. But he became far more than a blocker, averaging 8.1 yards per carry and busting a string of 50-plus-yard runs as a senior.

“The kid’s just really talented with the ball in his hands,” Bohannon said. “If he catches a crease, man, he’s going to go.”

Rechsteiner didn’t fathom a possible NFL career until midway through his senior season at Kennesaw. The program had never sent a player to the league (though a few had been invited to camps), and he wasn’t even an FCS star until his last year. He’d need to command attention with his strength and speed measurements, so he spent three months prepping with Atlanta trainer Chip Smith.

At his March 11 pro day, Rechsteiner ran the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds, jumped 35½ inches and fired off 35 repetitions of a 225-pound bench press. Those numbers would have placed him among the best all-around athletes at the NFL scouting combine (to which he was not invited). And get this: he was disappointed with his performance.

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“It just wasn’t my best stuff,” he scoffed.

His effort nonetheless turned heads on several NFL scouting staffs.

Rechsteiner knows he’ll have to scrap for a roster spot with the Ravens, who enter 2020 with one of the deepest offensive backfields in the NFL and a Pro Bowl fullback in Patrick Ricard. The undrafted rookie will likely have to make his mark on special teams, a role of which he speaks eagerly.

While the coronavirus pandemic keeps him in Georgia, he’s learning the team playbook via Zoom, engaging in online fitness sessions with Ravens trainers and keeping his strength up at the full home gym his father installed.

During a recent conference call with season-ticket holders, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta listed Rechsteiner as one of eight undrafted free agents with a real chance to make the 53-man roster.

He won’t have as much audition time as he would in a typical year, because the pandemic has wiped out offseason team workouts.

“But I can’t worry about things I can’t control,” he said. “I’m confident in the thing I can control: my effort.”

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