Quick feet are quick feet, invaluable on a football field, and if you don’t have them, there’s very little you can do to get them. Oh, there’s weight training and hundreds of agility drills to enhance foot speed. But in truth, being able to change directions on the fly, slip a tackle or make an opponent miss is hereditary. You either have it or you don’t.
Lakeville North running back Wade Sullivan has it. And it’s made for an enviable offensive dimension for Class 6A’s second-ranked Panthers, and frustrated a whole lot of opponents.
“He’s a super-special player,” coach Brian Vossen said. “Any team that has a player like him is going to build around him.”
At 5-9 and 179 pounds, Sullivan has the prototypical body style you might expect for a running back gaining renown for his ability to embarrass defenders.
But there’s more than just a shiftiness to Sullivan’s style. He’s a former wrestling state champion, winning the Class 3A 113-pound title as a ninth-grader and finishing second at 145 pounds last year. The leverage and determination learned in the wrestling room have paid dividends on the football field. Sullivan packs a bigger-than-expected wallop when he lays into a linebacker.
“When I was younger, I was a wrestler that played football,” Sullivan said. “Now, I’m football player who wrestles. Wrestling helps me with football and football helps me with wrestling, but I’ve grown to love football more.”
While the quickness is natural, Sullivan credits wrestling for his ability to turn his nimble footwork into big plays.
“I’ve always had quick feet,” he said. “But wrestling has helped. You’ve got to react real quick and think two moves ahead.”
Reid Saarela, a senior fullback, has been sealing off defenders while Sullivan whizzes by since ninth grade. He never fails to be impressed by Sullivan gifts.
“He surprises people with his toughness,” Saarela said. “He’s a little bull out there. He’s not easy to take down. And with his speed and shiftiness, he’s got it all.”
Said Vossen simply, “He doesn’t go backwards.”
Through two games, Sullivan, who runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, has lived up to his billing as one of the metro’s top runners. He was a workhorse with a 37-carry, 170-yard effort in a 24-23 overtime victory over 2015 Class 6A runner-up East Ridge. Last week against Eagan, defenders got good looks at the back of his jersey as he rushed for 175 yards and six touchdowns, all in the first half, of a 42-7 rout.
Those efforts put him fifth in the metro in rushing with 345 yards. He has seven touchdowns, tied for the second in the state.
Defenses know he’s coming, but the combination of Sullivan’s skills, Saarela’s selflessness and a long and athletic offensive line make stopping him a difficult task.
“Our line averages about 6-4, 247 pounds,” Vossen said. “These are not fat guys; they’re lean, athletic guys. For Wade’s speed, they’re the perfect offensive line with their ability to move. You don’t need to open a very wide hole.”
Senior offensive tackle Eli Wawracz fits Vossen’s description. At 6-4 and 240 pounds, Wawracz said blocking for a back like Sullivan carries a level of gratification.
“It helps to know that every play, we have a chance to break something if we all do our jobs,” Wawracz said. “And it’s more than just blocking for Wade. It’s being a part of the unit on the line this year. It’s fun being a part of this offense.”
Like most top running backs, Sullivan is the first to give credit to his blockers. For all of his bag-of-badgers toughness, he knows he’s not getting anywhere without them.
“I like making guys miss, but I really like cutting off of blocks,” Sullivan said. “When I see a big lineman coming across and bulldoze a guy into the ground and I cut off of his back, you know they’re doing their job and you’re doing you’re job.”