Nov. 10, 2014

by Garth Gartrell
Contributor to

Ohio State red-shirt senior Josh Demas is fresh off a triumphant return to collegiate wrestling after winning the inaugural event of the season, the Michigan State Open.  Despite that impressive performance, Josh enters his final season in search of redemption.  Demas will graduate in December with a degree and economics and hopes to one day enjoy success as an MMA fighter.  In the meantime he looks to restore the promise of a collegiate career that once seemed so bright. 

Demas started in style as a redshirt freshman.  A two-time Ohio high school state champion at Westerville North (he also placed second as a freshman and third as a sophomore), Demas wrestled up in weight class much of that first year.  He qualified for the NCAA tournament and had some big wins, including a decisive one over future NCAA champion, Derek St. John of Iowa.  Expectations were high for his sophomore year, especially after reeling off twelve straight wins in the 157 class, his preferred wrestling weight.

Unfortunately, at the prestigious 2012 Cliff Keen tournament in Las Vegas, Demas injured his shoulder and spent the rest of the year coping as best he could.  He gutted out the season but knew that he could not compete at a level to fulfill his huge potential without an extended time away from the sport.  So, without a second year to redshirt, Josh forfeited his precious junior year.

Josh is back, healthy, fit and ready to re-establish his status as a top-tier wrestler. So in a sense it is a year of redemption for Demas.  In broader sense however, Josh’s shot at redemption mirrors that of his team.  In his freshman year, Josh was accompanied by a spectacular group of freshman teammates.  Two of them, Logan and Hunter Stieber have in fact gone on to feed at the top of the college wrestling food chain.  But unfortunately, a couple wrestlers washed out for off the mat issues and Josh has not been healthy since December, 2012.  Now Josh and the Stiebers are once again surrounded by talented freshmen (as Flowrestling said in the above write-up on the Michigan State Open,  “As expected, the Ohio State University freshman ARE THE TRUTH!”).  Sprinkle in a few more successful veterans and the promise for Josh and the entire program is revived.

“The outside enthusiasm for the team is really great, but honestly we would like to remain underdogs and fly beneath the radar, “explains Demas.  As for himself, only becoming an NCAA champion will satisfy him.  “It won’t be easy.  James Green of Nebraska will be tough to beat.  He is talented and trains with [Olympic gold medalist Jordan] Burroughs.”

True enough, the challenge is big, but Josh doesn’t hurt for great training and great partners. He currently trains with Reece Humphrey, a former Buckeye great and multiple national freestyle senior champion.  Humphrey trains with the Ohio Regional Training Center, which shares facilities with the Ohio State wrestling team.  “It is just an unbelievable advantage to train with the top national wrestlers at the ORTC.  Every day I learn something new and get to watch what makes a professional so successful.  We are very lucky and Reece is such a dynamic wrestler and insightful teacher. He’s taught me a lot.”

Josh never really considered going to college anywhere but Ohio State.  “I am really a family guy–I get home three or four times a week.  Fortunately for me one of the best collegiate programs in the country is right down the road.”  His parents, Char and Lou, reside in Dublin, and Josh enjoys working with and helping his brother Dominick, a Dublin Coffman sophomore who has won a youth national title and placed sixth in the state as a freshman. 

It’s always incredibly impressive to see a top tier Division I athlete tackle a demanding major, especially one as difficult as economics, which is incomprehensible unless one dives in with full effort and embraces its intricate building blocks.  Josh is interested in real estate finance eventually, but that will have to take a backseat while Josh attempts a go at MMA fighting.  Wrestlers are often among the most successful fighters but to do so they must master many other skills such as boxing, jiu jitsu and muay thai.  Josh isn’t concerned.

“My dad was a wrestler in the [notoriously tough and brutal] Marine Corps program.  He was hopeful I would take to wrestling, so to get me ready to compete at the highest level, he actually got me started at age 5 in jiu jitsu and muay thai.  So I don’t think the adjustment will be too hard. “

This year OSU Wrestling has adopted the motto #wt3, which stands for “win the third [period].  The logo is undoubtedly a nod to the fact that the team has in fact struggled in the past as matches have progressed.  That particular problem has not generally been a problem for Demas.  In a key wrestle-back in the 2013 Big Ten Tournament, Demas was in overtime against a Purdue wrestler.  It was basically do or die.  Coming out of a break with 15 seconds remaining in the final overtime period, Demas would either win with a rideout, which is difficult at the top collegiate level, or lose on an escape by his opponent. Despite the extreme fatigue of double overtime, Demas rose up and in the blink of an eye executed a surprise and strength draining torso figure 4 to secure the win.  “I always think my conditioning is one of my biggest strengths–I feel good about my chances late in a match,” notes Josh. 

As he looks forward to this year, he understands his challenges.  His injury has severely limited his time on the mat.  His lanky frame, packed as tightly as it can be to fit into 157 pounds, doesn’t leave him much opportunity to overpower others by adding strength.  His weight coach, J. Jaggers, himself a two time national champion, agrees.  “I don’t worry about Josh’s time off the mat.  I worry about his relative strength, which means he is going to have to be the fittest man on the mat and use his leverage smartly–I think Josh has the mental strength and motivation to get there.”

Head coach Tom Ryan also alludes to Josh’s temperament and motivation as keys to Josh’s success:

“Josh has been a consistent performer for the Bucks since his arrival in the program. The last two years have been challenging and he stayed the course. This is important to him. Two years ago he lost in the All-American  round of the NCAA Tourney and last year he was sidelined with a shoulder injury. That’s a long time to wait for redemption. I also believe as a native of Columbus, Josh wants nothing more than to play a pivotal role in a team title.” 

Josh is measured in his build-up to this year’s NCAA Tournament. He won the Michigan State Open by narrowly beating eighth ranked Brian Murphy of the University of Michigan 2-1 in the finals.  He also had other narrow wins on his way to the finals.  “It was great to win, but I am just glad to get the first tournament under my belt this year. I was a little tentative.”  Josh said, with a nod to the difficulty of returning to competition as he puts the nagging weight of injury behind him. 

Injury has left Josh Demas the hard knocks kid from that talented team of freshmen that hit the mat in 2011.  He has the talent and drive to spin his goal into reality, and this time it is a new group of freshmen with the talent to make the team’s dream come true.  This mild-mannered, family-oriented intellectual may well knock heads in the octagon shortly, but for now he and his teammates have some unfinished business at St. John Arena in Columbus.