Brothers bond through wrestling, Spartan ties
Assistant coach Chris Williams, right, and sophomore 184-pounder John Rizqallah talk during a meet on Jan. 20, 2013, at Jenison Field House. Rizqallah beat Iowa’s Ethen Lofthouse 6-3. Julia Nagy/The State News
For John and Joe Rizqallah, wrestling has never brought them closer.
Both picked up the sport in middle school before coming to MSU and wrestling on the same team a year ago.
John Rizqallah, a sophomore 184-pounder, is in his first full year in the starting lineup while his brother continues to volunteer with the team as he finishes earning his degree.
“In his first year of competition all that hard work is finally paying off,” Joe Rizqallah said of his brother.
“I’m glad that we had the opportunity to be on the same team together and work out with each other.”
In three seasons in the heavyweight division for the Spartans, the older Rizqallah racked up 40 wins, including an upset against then-No. 5 Cameron Wade of Penn State in 2011.
Wrestling hasn’t always been in the Rizqallah family, but when John Rizqallah took it up in middle school, his older brother was soon to follow.
As wrestling seasons have come and gone, the competition between the brothers has changed.
“It’s a different kind of competition now than it was when you were younger,” Joe Rizqallah said. “We push each other as siblings, and we’re always competing and now it finally all adds up, and you want nothing more than your sibling to be successful.”
John Rizqallah is No. 18 in his weight class — the first national ranking of his career — after a 6-3 decision over then-No. 11 Ethan Lofthouse of No. 3 Iowa on Sunday, his 10th dual meet win of the season.
The brothers still wrestle, and the younger Rizqallah said they trade wins, but the one who comes out on top gets more than just bragging rights when they go home.
“If he wins, I’m doing the dishes, if I win, he’s doing the dishes,” John Rizqallah said.
“I knew that I would have to beat him, or else you go home and someone’s getting made fun of for their performance.”
With his eyes always on the prize, John Rizqallah said he uses his brother’s accomplishments at MSU as benchmark for his still-young career.
“In the back of my mind, Joe is a national qualifier, so right now he’s still ahead of me,” he said.
“My goal is to be an All-American. I’ve got to top him in my career. I’ve gotta get there.”
The brothers have a similar, unorthodox style that slows opponents down and focuses more on defense.
Head coach Tom Minkel said both of the Rizqallahs have great qualities to be wrestlers; the most important of them is the passion they have for the sport.
“John and Joe are close, and it’s fun to watch them together,” Minkel said. “Joe had a very strong couple years here in our program, and I expect John will have a remarkable couple of years here coming up.”
When the two began competing in middle school, they had a love/hate relationship with the sport that they would eventually grow to love.
In the end, they both want each other to succeed and even though they aren’t on the mat together every match, their connection remains strong.
“When I’m out there, he can relate to what I’m doing, so I feel good when he’s in my corner,” John Rizqallah said. “Having him on the edge of the mat is always a big help.”