NFL Legend Mike Wahle Shares His Tenacity and Grit with the Next Generation
Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.
When Mike Wahle was growing up, football wasn't his best sport. It wasn’t even second.
"Baseball was my best sport and basketball was my favorite sport," Wahle said. "Football didn’t happen until I got to high school."
As a kid in Rialto, California, Wahle and most of his friends played soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring.
"We grew up in a small mountain community. We had one stop light in my town. Back then, you played soccer in the fall until you grew up, and then you played football. You graduated from soccer and played high school football."
Wahle finally picked up the pads at Rim of the World High School in Lake Arrowhead, Califonia — the same school that produced Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan. But despite entering high school at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Wahle said he wasn't the most polished player.
"There were kids who played junior football or Pop Warner, and they were definitely ahead of us for sure," he said. "I was a big fish in a small pond, so they made me the quarterback because I was such a good pitcher in baseball. But I wasn’t a good quarterback. I couldn’t hit the ocean from the beach."
The big fish kept growing, eventually reaching 6-foot-5, 235 pounds and moving to tight end. Baseball ended for Wahle his junior year when an overzealous high school coach pitched him every other game and blew out his arm. Football then replaced basketball as his top sport as his size and frame became attractive to college scouts.
"I was a late bloomer, for sure," Wahle said. "But football is different. Unless you’re the quarterback, and always have the ball in your hands, you have to learn how to block or tackle. I realized that if I’m willing to take a little bit of pain, if I have a little grit and I like contact and I’m willing to work hard, I can catch up real fast.
"It wasn’t that hard to gain ground. They moved me to tight end my senior year and that’s how I got noticed and made it to the Naval Academy."
Wahle continued to get bigger. He would play tackle at Navy and eventually reached the NFL at a listed 6-6, 304.
Picked in the 1998 Supplemental Draft by the Green Bay Packers, Wahle became one of the best guards in the league. Wahle played 11 years in the league, starting 138 games and receiving All Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2005 for the Carolina Panthers.
After retiring in 2009, Wahle spent five years as an assistant with the Miami Dolphins. Then, he started his own business, Process to Perform, where he shares insights from his pro career to help high school players get to college, college players get drafted, and professional players continue to get better.
"Trying to help kids reach their ceiling — that’s what it’s all about," he said. “We focus on three things: your mindset, your technical ability, and then your decisions. It’s a long process, but if we give them the right toolset, put them on the road and give them the direction, and give them something to hold themselves accountable to, then it's a fun and exciting way to spend your time.
"I played at a high level and I am proud of my career. Now, I want to give that info back and help people as much as I can. I don’t think there is anything more valuable to me than helping a really committed athlete to reach that ceiling."
Photo: AP/Scott Boehm
- NFL Players and Legends
- Youth Football