Three sport athletes are rare these days, especially in a big high school like Shakopee. It’s even rarer for a tri-sport athlete to be successful at the highest level of competition in the state in all three sports, yet that’s exactly what Shakopee High School seniors Connor Raines and Jack Casey are doing as they’ve blazed a trail to state in football, wrestling, and track and field.

Most recently, they were captains on this year’s football team that went to state before losing a heartbreaker to Lakeville North that went down to the wire. Last spring, they went to state in track and field, and they were on a relay team that set a school record.

Last winter, they returned to state in wrestling. Casey has been to state twice as an individual and twice on the wrestling team. Raines has been there once as an individual and twice on the wrestling team. They have every intention of returning to state this year in wrestling and in track — with a goal of bringing home team and individual medals.

Raines and Casey have known each other since they were 5 years old. They met in wrestling in kindergarten, realized they were neighbors, and have been best friends ever since. This friendship has motivated them to continually improve as athletes.

“We’ve been on the same team in football since sixth grade and have been wrestling together since we were five,” Raines said. “In a sprint, I want to beat him and he wants to beat me, so we make each other better.”

Casey agrees. “It’s always been a factor of pushing each other to get better,” he said. “We’re at different weights for wrestling, but on the same team. We’re not in a head-to-head competition, so we’re helping each other get better.”

Football is their favorite sport. “I like the team aspect of football. It’s a great feeling being on the team and on the field. You can’t describe it,” Casey said. He played running back and was named Honorable Mention All Conference.

“This is one of the most successful football teams in Shakopee history, and I was glad to be on it and reach most of our goals,” said Raines, who played safety and wide receiver. He was named All Conference.

They both credit hard work and personal commitment for being successful as athletes. Almost every day for the last several years, they lifted weights, ran, practiced, or did some other type of athletic activity, like playing pick-up football in one of their yards. Sometimes they worked out twice a day. Their hard work has paid dividends by enabling them to compete at an elite level.

“Wrestling in particular teaches you so much discipline and how to work hard,” Raines said. “I don’t mean this in an arrogant way, but if you wrestle, you’re pretty tough. You have to sacrifice to make weight, and it’s not easy. If you have a good team, you have to work hard to get a spot. There’s a winner and there’s a loser, so there’s motivation to work hard and earn a spot.”

Casey said they started hitting the weight room when they were in elementary school, and that has translated into success as they’ve gotten older. “We started lifting in sixth grade, which gave us an advantage, and we continued to lift and get stronger and work on our skills every day,” he points out. “Being good in sports stems from the mindset that wrestling gives you of wanting to win.”

They also have a lot in common besides sports. They both earn good grades and will be college-bound next fall. Casey plans to stay in state for college and may major in mathematics. Raines is debating between the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with an eye toward business or pre-med. They’re both considering running track in college.

The lessons they’ve learned as athletes will help them in college and beyond. “I think the life lessons and mindset will help us in college and when we get out of college,” Casey said. “For example, if I have a homework assignment I need to get done, I have the wrestling mindset to go after it and get it done.”

Each sport is uniquely different and therefore offers a different learning perspective. “Football is teamwork and playing with other guys,” Raines explains. “Wresting is an individual sport and requires working hard on your own. Track is beating the guy next to you and having fun. Through sports, we’ve learned how to work hard in everything we do.”

Sports encourages them to constantly improve as athletes and as people. “Sports teaches us so much about everyday life and being competitive,” Casey said. “It’s showing up on time, being a good teammate, and being a leader. I think these are good attributes that we’ll be able to use outside of sports.”

Brett Martin is a community columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.

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