Feb. 12, 2015

By Garth Gartrell
Contributor to

A famous Sports Illustrated cover once famously pictured young Hoosier Isaiah Thomas under the title of a quote from the Book of Isaiah, “A Child Shall Lead Them.”  No doubt Buckeye Wrestling Coach Tom Ryan has reflected on that passage often as he thinks of his most prominent freshmen and the success they have enjoyed so far this season. But while that phrase seemed apt for the baby-faced Thomas, it seems out of place for the colder and more ferocious maturity exhibited by this trio.

Ohio State wrestling, which this year threatens to become the first Buckeye National Champion squad, has two distinct echelons—those five for whom it would surprise no one if they made it to the National Finals—and the other five for whom the title bout would be a bit of a surprise (though not out of the realm possibility), but for whom anything less than a top eight All American showing would be a disappointment. While injuries have to this point clouded that as a narrative, the fact remains that this is a very potent team.

The upper echelon consists of three time national champion Logan Stieber and his injury-plagued brother Hunter, who has placed third in the nation and is a former Big Ten champion. The other three are all freshmen: 125-pound redshirt Nathan Tomasello, 165-pound redshirt Bo Jordan and true 197-pound freshman Kyle Snyder.

Tomasello began the year by indicating he intended to ignite each meet for his team by leaving it all on the mat and he has certainly delivered on that promise—perhaps too much so. In each of his few losses he has actually seemed well in control only to get caught in his aggression and put on his back. There is some evidence he is measuring his opponents a little more carefully even if his runaway wins would suggest otherwise.

Nathan has two Logan Stieber traits to strike quickly from his feet and wrack up the points from neutral, as well as torture opponents with back exposure technique. Nathan never tires, and is the closest thing in real life can to a spinning animated Tasmanian devil. He also has this maddening habit of attacking from his left which is generally uncomfortable to an opponent. They can be prepared for a left handed high crotch all they want but as soon as they try to stop it he flicks them aside for a lightning quick go behind. Nathan may just be the most entertaining wrestler to don a Buckeye singlet since the great Reece Humphrey.

Nathan has yet to be tested against Nahshon Garrett of Cornell or two time NCAA champ Jesse Delgado of Illinois, but he has proven he is baying at their doorstep threatening to burst through.

I took my daughter and her boyfriend to see their first wrestling meet a few weeks ago when Ohio State hosted Indiana at Norwalk High School—a tribute to the hometown Stieber brothers. The teams decided on a blind draw start that by luck then had them open with the night’s only genuine marquee match—165 pounds. It was my delight then that their first exposure to the sport would be Bo Jordan against the incredibly entertaining pinning machine, veteran star Taylor Walsh.

Walsh won the opening takedown and another and established such a dominant first period, complete with period ending rideout, that I thought “welp, this is how Bo’s win streak will end—Walsh is just too much for him.”

Slowly though the match texture turned.  Somehow Jordan kept at it, completing his own second period rideout with a punishing tight waist half nelson that continuously had Walsh in danger of going to his back. The match was slowly turning and by the end of the third period, Jordan had forced a tie. In overtime you could tell Walsh had no answer and seemed to accept his fate as Jordan overpowered him for the winning sudden victory takedown.

Suffice it to say my daughter and her boyfriend were sufficiently taken with the drama of the sport, though as my daughter witnessed high school girls and co-eds react to Bo’s rugged good looks, her most memorable comment was “I see Bo crushes it on and off the mat.”

After watching Walsh submit to his fate, we have witnessed Bo’s matches where again you can see opponents visibly give up in obvious effort to get off the mat as quickly as they can, whether by almost keystone cop like willingness to submit to tech falls or outright pins.

The storylines surrounding Jordan are many: son of Jeff Jordan, an NCAA All American at Wisconsin who has become a high school coaching legend at Ohio’s Paris St. Graham, nephew of Wisconsin national champion, Jim Jordan,  who is also a rising star congressman from Ohio; spurned his Wisconsin legacy to attend Ohio State—and recruit his redshirting brother Micah to follow; and perhaps most interesting, a favorite to make it to the Big Ten championship match where he could well face none other than his close cousin Isaac, a returning All American, from, you guessed it—Wisconsin.

And then there is the least flamboyant of the bunch, former Junior World Champion Kyle Snyder from Maryland. You just cannot help but be blown away by this young man’s maturity. He actually passed up his senior year in high school to go live away from his family in Colorado to train at the Olympic training facility. He has lost twice this year, but those losses have to be put in the context of his weight class and to some extent his youth.

Last year, the Buckeyes were represented by Nick Heflin who marched to the 197 title bout with a string of very close matches. That is more the nature of this class where the last ounce of muscle is squeezed into a body to avoid “falling” up into the heavyweight (285 pound class). There really are not a lot of pins at this class (though when they happen they are among the most dramatic) and for the most part there are not the lightning quick takedowns you see at the lower classes. These are guys that are as strong and fierce as you get who for the most part live off upper body throw attempts—a lot like you see in greco roman wrestling. Nick was just impenetrable as he survived the close bouts, losing his title match because of a stall call issued by a referee without the perspective that just because these big guys take their shots from up top does not suggest they are stalling (even the great Dan Gable recalled without prompting that stalling against Nick was not warranted).

Kyle’s first loss was in Las Vegas to highly-regarded Kyven Gadsen of Iowa State. Kyle seemed obviously the more dominant wrestler. It was his first collegiate match against an elite college wrestler. His second loss was to Nathan Burak of Iowa, also a perennial top contender. A curious decision by Snyder regarding his choice of up, down or neutral likely deprived Snyder of a chance to win, and indeed both losses seem to reflect more inexperience than anything else.

If Snyder has a weakness it is that he doesn’t seem to have overpowering moves to turn an opponent to his back, but at this weight, that is rare anyway given the sheer strength of the top competitors. What he does have is even more rare and something the great Nick Heflin did not have—Snyder can attack the legs of his opponent from neutral with the same ease that Nathan Tomasello does—a tribute to this world championship freestyle ability.

This was on evident display against one of the two remaining titans of the class, Scott Schiller of Minnesota (the other is reigning national champion and the beneficiary of the unfortunate stall call against Heflin—J’den Cox of Missouri). With only seconds to go before the match headed to overtime, Snyder struck with a single leg, and like a spider arranging its trapped prey, dragged Schiller to the center of the mat to administer the final inbounds takedown. It was an epic moment at the Schott.

Obviously the future is bright for Ohio State, but for the very same reason its present stands before us so mesmerizingly tantalizing. Three freshmen have taken it upon themselves to show the way—even as team captains. Their even spread among the weight classes and unique styles are fitted to succeed and be a pleasure to watch now and for a long time.