July 2, 2014

Nathan Tomasello Intends to Ignite an Explosive Ohio State Wrestling Team

By P. Garth Gartrell, contributor

The Family That Trains Together Wins Together
When redshirt freshman Nathan Tomasello first steps on the mat in an Ohio State wrestling singlet—as he most surely will do late this fall—he will inaugurate the 2014-15 season—the most anticipated season in the history of Ohio State wrestling. Ohio may be one of the hotspots for wrestling in particular and martial arts sports in general, but until this year, Ohio State has never really been thought of as a favorite to win a national title. Nathan himself has legitimate national title aspirations after an extremely successful youth and high school wrestling career that started right where you would expect—in the gym with his mother.

Say what? I don’t refer to the dutiful mother’s role as a driver and adult companion—I actually mean as a trainer. Sue Tomasello and her husband Tom have held gym memberships from the start of their 32-year marriage and trim and fit Sue has been a serious weightlifter that entire time. When young Nathan, a participant in all sports, yearned to beef up his skinny frame, he started tagging along with his mom to the gym, where she instructed him on routine and technique. Now the mother of one of the most talented wrestlers on a powerhouse team, it is Sue who anxiously awaits Nathan’s periodic return visits from Ohio State so he can share with her the training techniques he has learned.

You see, Nathan is not the only Tomasello on a quest. In addition to fraternal twin brother Troy, who had success as a youth figure skater, and sister Rachel, an accomplished dancer, mom Sue, now freed from the demands of attending to her active children, prepares to participate in her first triathlon later this summer.

A Legacy of Greatness
Nathan Tomasello (he prefers Nathan despite a twitter handle of @FranchiseNate) brings to Ohio State the type of pedigree that compares well with that of Logan Stieber who will attempt to become just the fourth person in history to win four NCAA wrestling titles. Both were four-time Ohio state high school wrestling champions from small northern Ohio high schools (Nathan grew up in Parma and attended Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy), both are exceptional takedown artists, both trained in the off-season with talented guru (and Elyria head coach) Erik Burnett and both racked up numerous cadet and junior freestyle national titles. The similarities continue. Both are disciplined in their personal and training lives, both are physically imposing competitors, both redshirted their freshman years, both are consummately skilled and both are intricate planners when it comes to deciding on a program for key matches and executing that program.

Another common trait is that while both Nathan and Logan are accustomed to winning and hate to lose, neither is afraid of losing, which frees them to dig deep and explore new wrestling frontiers they learn from to grow as competitors. Each has suffered losses and each has demonstrated that the post-loss process is one of their greater assets. Earlier this year Nathan won the U.S. Open Junior Freestyle tournament, which basically put him in a favored position to claim a spot on the U.S. World Team which competes in Croatia this year. At the last moment, successful rising Iowa sophomore Thomas Gilman entered the competition and eventually prevailed over Nathan for the U.S. World Team spot. Nathan, who was supposed to return home to Parma for a few weeks instead began to promptly address the issues that were responsible for his loss.

Can Tomasello become the punishing pinning machine that is Logan Stieber? They are both strong and aggressive on top.

“The thing you can tell and hear about Logan,” explains Nathan, “is how he squeezes his opponents, almost constantly. When he comes off the mat he often complains how strained his forearms are. I am so blessed to be able train with Logan and watch and learn from him—he is the best at almost everything, but no one is so dominating from the top. While it is always tempting to keep letting guys up and taking them down because,” (in an almost apologetic and rare display of personal acknowledgement) “I am so good on my feet, I think I have the ability to get more points from pins and tech falls—those extra points will matter so much in team and tournament competitions.”

Nathan believes his best attribute is he is always the most well-conditioned competitor. Indeed, that little something in reserve that lets him push opponents around the mat—the one trait Coach Ryan noticed when he first saw Tomasello wrestle—is an important element to what Nathan sees himself bringing to Ohio State. “At the lightest weight, I am usually the guy to start a meet. I want to set the table by getting the crowd going with a punishing and dominating performance that other guys can carry over when they take the mat.”

The Recruitment and Development of Nathan Tomasello
Nathan came to Ohio State after receiving offers from the top programs in the country. He took all five official recruiting visits that included perennial powers Oklahoma State and Iowa, but as he headed to Ohio State, the leaders were Minnesota and Purdue. His criteria for selection were coaches, determination of his fellow wrestlers and the team’s ability to compete for a national title. After sitting down with his parents, Coach Burnett and youth coach Bob Johnson, an avid Michigan fan, the choice was solidified when Coach Johnson croaked, “it kills me to say this, but Ohio State is the best fit for you.” Nathan is now thoroughly delighted with his choice.

“When we saw him at his first state tournament, we saw this kid just pushing other kids around the mat and we said ‘we can’t let this one get away’,” Coach Ryan recalls. It is funny to think the event which so excited Coach Ryan did not sit well with young Nathan. Even though he won his first state title that year as a freshman, all he could think about were a few losses earlier in the year. He came home from the tournament with a detailed plan on how he was going to address the gaps in his wrestling.

“This individual is a mature adult—he has a near 4.0, taking classes like calculus and physics and it is inconceivable he would ever show up unprepared for anything,” continues Coach Ryan. Mom Sue chimes in, “he has his day planned—knows what he wants to get done today and what he needs to accomplish over the next few months. He is disciplined with all his habits—he never lets his weight get out of control so he doesn’t have to wreck himself cutting weight right before a match.”

Nathan has certainly used his redshirt season well, going undefeated in quasi-collegiate tournaments, and of course becoming the U.S. Open Junior Champion. “It was hard and in the middle of the year I wanted in on some of the dual meets,” Nathan explained. “But in the end it was good—it let me mature, understand what I need to focus on in college and get to know Ohio State. It let me grow, get stronger and improve my technique.”

While he is disappointed to not be making the trip to Croatia this coming September, at least he can use the time to practice more on the “folk” style that is wrestled in college as well as bulking up to a true 125 pounds, as opposed to the 121 pounds he wrestled at in freestyle.

An Ohio Wrestling Community
Nathan has also gotten very close to his Ohio State teammates (present and future) and his coaches. Coach Ryan has become a mentor in many phases of young Nathan’s life.

“He has even attended church with Nathan,” remarks appreciative mom Sue. One of the biggest attractions of Ohio State was the promise of being able to train with the very best. Thus, in addition to training with Logan Stieber, brother Hunter Stieber (a redshirt junior who is a Big Ten champion and NCAA third place finisher) and everyone’s best friend and 133 pound national title hopeful Johnni DiJulius, Nathan gets to compete with two-time national senior freestyle champion and former Buckeye icon, Reece Humphrey. “What more could I ask for?” a reverent Nathan pleads. Overtime, Nathan also has had to adjust to the coaching style of OSU associate head coach Lou Rosselli.

“Nathan had to get used to Lou,” explains Sue. His previous coaches were all so nurturing, but Lou is not touchy feely, he gives it to you directly. But now Nathan just loves Lou, “he knows so much and is so respected.”

Coach Ryan can certainly relate. Ryan’s own experience probably sheds light on why he is so appreciative of Rosselli and his no nonsense devotion to duty. As a walk-on at Iowa after having “walked out” on a full scholarship at Syracuse, famed Iowa coach Dan Gable saw young Tom Ryan taking a breather after getting pummeled for two hours by the Hawkeye’s best. “Who are you?” growled Gable. After hearing that Ryan was a walk-on trying to make his team, Gable muttered as he continued on, “you’ll never get any better sitting down.” Ryan would eventually ascend the elevated stage as one of Gable’s Hawkeyes to wrestle for a national championship—giving up a late takedown after leading a championship match which, with a Ryan win, would have wrestled away Pat Smith’s claim as the first four-time NCAA champion.

Buckeye Reload
In 2013-14, Coach Ryan redshirted so much talent (including 2013 NCAA third-place finisher Hunter Stieber, NCAA title contender Bo Jordan, and rising junior Josh Demas, in addition to Tomasello) that the team fielded only 5.5 of its allotted 9.9 scholarship potential. That team still finished sixth nationally. Joining the redshirts is incoming freshman Kyle Snyder—himself a Junior World Champion (and future Tomasello roommate)—the guy who will replace the incomparable Nick Heflin, an NCAA finalist who lost by being just a micro-second late in completing the would-be winning takedown.

This year’s Buckeyes have a legitimate chance to become NCAA champions. Most home matches are held in venerable St. John Arena, though Coach Ryan also makes it a practice to hold meets at a high school or two around the state. The team is also attempting to move one of its marquee early January matchups against either defending champion Penn State or prominent Iowa to the Schottenstein Center in an attempt to host the largest audience ever to witness a collegiate dual wrestling meet. Even more deliciously, the Big Ten championships will be held in Columbus in early March 2015.

There is little question Nathan will start at 125 pounds. He actually beat last year’s starter Nick Roberts, but redshirted nonetheless. Any remaining doubt evaporated when Roberts, a rising sophomore who competed admirably for the Buckeyes, recently decided he would transfer. Tomasello will compete in a loaded 125-pound field that will return two-time NCAA champion Jesse Delgado of Illinois, finalists Nahshon Garrett of Cornell (who Nathan is looking forward to wrestling in the early season Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational) and Nico Megaludis of Penn State (not to mention new nemesis Gilman).

Tomasello is a reserved and thoughtful young man who volunteers, “a couple people have said this next year will be the greatest year of Ohio State wrestling ever. I cannot wait to get started and I am so proud to be a part of it.” You can expect that with training partners at Ohio State and mom helping out on the training circuit at home, Nathan will be in the thick of the championship discussion when mid-March rolls around.