Notre Dame Prep middle linebacker Brock Locnikar, who has a background in MMA, leads 5A in tackles.
Richard Obert, azcentral sports
All of those 5A Conference-leading tackles Brock Locnikar has racked up in his first season starting on varsity football at Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep can be traced to a cage.
He was 5 when his dad Steven took him to the what was then called The Lion’s Den, a mixed-martial arts gym in Scottsdale now called Fight Ready. It was a rare place that took a kid that young to train. A year before that, Brock was already mixing it up in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, boxing and MMA.
Former Arizona State and Cardinals offensive lineman Scott Peters, who was one of the owners, remembered: “They were the first members to sign up.”
“My father really wanted to push me into being self-reliant,” Locnikar said. “I got used to fighting, so I would never have to fight. Then, I eventually took it up as a full-time sport.”
He got so good so fast that he won his first national championship in the United States Fight League at 11-years-old, dominating opponents into submission.
“He was putting people in arm bars before he could really talk,” Peters said.
It’s been a few years since Locnikar has been in a cage fight.
But he sees himself returning, maybe someday becoming an MMA and UFC champion. Holding up a belt.
For now, Locnikar is a nationally-ranked wrestler and has been blowing it up on the football field for an 11-0 Saints team that plays host to Goodyear Millennium on Friday night in the 5A state quarterfinals.
Locnikar, 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, is the man in the middle, relying on his instincts to get to running backs before they have a chance to do damage. He has 129 tackles, 95 solo, 18 for losses, and 3.5 sacks. And he’s done it with a broken wrist since the second game.
“He’s quick,” Notre Dame coach George Prelock said. “When we send him on a blitz, he shoots the gap, hitting it hard.
“He just sees things. Because of his wrestling ability, if he grabs you, you’re going to go down.”
Peters has YouTube videos of the little Locnikar pounding into Mario O. Francis’ mitts. Francis was a trainer for former boxer Roy Jones Jr.
There is another video of Locnikar fighting Pankration, which is MMA minus the head strikes, Peters said.
“What an interesting little childhood he had,” said Steve Locnikar, who was a fight doctor in Arizona. “I wanted to take him to some gyms when he was little. I started taking him down to the (boxing) gyms downtown (Phoenix). He literally grew up in the boxing gyms in Phoenix every day. It transitioned to MMA. He started to like grappling.”
Locnikar got to know former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, who for a while lived with the Locnikars while he was training in Phoenix.
Later, Locnikar joined Power MMA, where local UFC fighters, like Ryan Bader, took the young Locnikar under their wing. Locnikar got good at not only Brazilian jiu jitsu but Muay Thai, and won a championship when he was 12.
Locnikar has also became an All-American wrestler.
None of this was pushed onto him.
“If I didn’t take him (to the gym) when he was 6, he would grab me and drag me out of the house,” Steve said. “I’d feel guilty.”
Humble and polite, Locnikar, who carries a 4.2 grade-point average at Notre Dame, has the abilities of a champion cage fighter. But he doesn’t carry the bravado.
“You’d see him compete in jiu jitsu and he would dominate everybody,” Peters said. “Afterward, he would thank them and shake their hands. He was always a good sport.”
Steven said his son never carried a chip on his shoulder going into fights.
“It’s a combat sport but he has no anger when he pursues any of it,” Steven said. “He has the ability to turn a switch like I’ve never seen in a kid. He can turn it on and off. He can transition from a combat sport to being a happy-go-lucky kid.”
His dad believes football is the sport his son is most passionate about.
Ivy League schools and Iowa State have asked Prelock about Locnikar, who has become the heart and soul of a defense that was basically all new after last year’s run to the 5A final.
“They’re not rookies any more,” Prelock said. “It’s time for them to take charge. Each week they’ve progressed. They’ve done a great job. Every once in a while, they’ll make some errors. But for being a young defense, they’ve really come along this year.”
Locnikar could see this group coming together even when he was a freshman, because of the bond it had.
“We’ve all stayed close, stayed out of trouble and been able to stay together,” Locnikar said.
Prelock isn’t afraid to send Locnikar up the middle on blitzes.
“Depending on the team, I’m able to blitz and I love it,” Locnikar said. “Whatever they need me to do, I can do it.”
Locnikar has been piling up tackles, despite breaking his wrist and having to make tackles with one hand.
He missed only the third game because of the injury.
“I’ve been playing with a club and it’s been fun, actually,” he said.
The cage fighting background has been beneficial, he feels.
“From a mental toughness and hand and footwork, it’s made me a good middle linebacker,” he said.
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