Former Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowler and record six-time NCAA champion wrestler Carlton Haselrig died on Wednesday.
The Tribune-Democrat reports that he collapsed in his Johnstown, Pennsylvania home Wednesday morning and was pronounced dead around an hour later. Cambria County Coroner Jeffrey Lees told the paper that he will perform an autopsy but believes the death to be of natural causes. Haselrig was 54 years old.
Haselrig played in the NFL as a guard for the Steelers from 1990-1995, making the Pro Bowl in 1992. He is also a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Unprecedented wrestling champion
Haselrig won a record six NCAA wrestling championships as a heavyweight for the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown. He won three Division II championships from 1987-89 and took advantage of a rule that allowed lower-division champions to participate in the Division I championships as well.
He made the most of those opportunities, claiming the heavyweight championship at Division I for three straight years.
His college wrestling coach Pat Pecora talked with the Associated Press about Haselrig’s determination.
“Mentally he just had a unique outlook, he just wasn’t intimidated,” Pecora said. “He didn’t know that just because you went to a small school you weren’t supposed to beat someone from a bigger school. To him that was like saying, this guy comes from a bigger house, he should beat you up. He didn't believe in that.”
Pecora said that Haselrig’s health had been in decline in recent years.
Haselrig didn’t play college football
Haselrig didn’t play college football after suffering an injury as a freshman at Pennsylvania’s Lock Haven University. He transferred to Pittsburgh-Johnstown where he focused on wrestling, and the Steelers took a gamble on him in the 12th round of the 1990 draft.
He was a success story for the Steelers, starting 47 games over five seasons at right guard. His career was cut short at 29 years old due to a substance-abuse struggle.
One-man high school wrestling team
He was a local sports hero in Johnstown, where he won a state wrestling title in 1984 despite being the only member of the Greater Johnstown High School wrestling team, which didn’t have a varsity wrestling program, according to the Tribune-Democrat.
He returned to his hometown after his NFL career, where he died surrounded by his family.
“We are devastated by the loss of our husband, father, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin and friend,” his wife Michelle Haselrig told The Tribune-Democrat. “He was my companion, my best friend, my everything.”
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