The Ohio State wrestling team has 32 men listed on its roster. Of those 32, three are in their junior or senior year of eligibility, leaving 29 underclassmen.
“We’re trying to do the toughest thing that I’m aware of in college sports and that’s to have a freshman perform at a national level,” said head coach Tom Ryan. “If we’re going to really contend for a national title and have our fans and spectators believe … we can’t do it without the freshmen this year.”
The Buckeyes started five true freshmen, two redshirt freshmen, two redshirt sophomores and one redshirt junior in their victory over No. 15 Virginia Tech on Nov. 20.
Ryan said his freshmen are a special group, but at this level in the Big Ten, being special doesn’t cut it.
“It’s really breaking the barrier and having them be real with themselves and saying, ‘Look, you don’t have it yet,'” Ryan said. “You’re really special, but now you’re in a world of special people.”
Another challenge for such a young team is leadership. Ryan pointed to redshirt freshman, Logan Stieber, as the team’s biggest leader. Stieber was ranked the No. 1 recruit in any weight class coming out of high school last year, but a hand injury on Dec. 3, put an early halt to his season.
“He was outstanding coming in, but even with those credentials, there’s still a lot of learning to do,” Ryan said. “But he is a tremendous leader.”
At a perfect 8-0 on the season, Stieber is ranked No. 4 nationally in his weight class. He defeated the fifth-ranked opponent in Virginia Tech sophomore Devin Carter.
Only seven wrestlers in Ohio State’s history have placed in the country as freshmen. In his office, Ryan has a poster showing the seven men with the heading “Wanted: Freshman All-Americans” printed on it. He said each freshman has the same poster in their rooms.
Freshman Cam Tessari, a four-time state champion in high school, said wrestling in college hasn’t been the easiest transition.
“All coming from high school, we kind of dominated the scene and coming to college, you have a lot of tougher guys who all dominated the scene in high school too,” he said. “It’s a little frustrating at times.”
The true and redshirt freshmen were 3-4 in the dual against Virginia Tech, but Ryan said his team grew up a lot.
“They just aren’t used to being in close matches with 10 seconds to go,” he said. “Normally they’re up by 12, they’ve won so much. It was a good early season idea of just how intense every second is out there.”
The young, undefeated Buckeyes are hungry to prove themselves every week. According to Ryan, if a team had to pick any freshman in the country to put in their lineup, they are on the Buckeyes roster.
“I don’t think there’s a guy in any weight class that’s not capable of being on the podium at the end of the year; I think we have that much talent,” Ryan said. “The question is how many will buy into the little things we’re telling them and how many won’t.”
Stieber has bought into those things, and he represents the Buckeyes’ best chance at a national champion . He said he and his teammates will take it one meet at a time.
“We can win now, it doesn’t matter that we’re young or old or anything,” Stieber said. “So don’t worry about age; just go out there and wrestle like we always have.”