Courtesy of Ohio State Athletic Department
There is a common phrase in sports: “Winning is everything.”
And maybe, for some people, it is.
Ohio State wrestling coach Tom Ryan doesn’t see it that way, though.
“It’s awesome that you may win a national title,” Ryan said. “But at the end of the day, if you’re a national champion and you’re a jerk, you’re still a jerk and wrestling’s over.”
While Ryan and the No. 7 Buckeyes are determined to win the Big Ten Championships Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind., the OSU coach said he understands that the team is loved whether they win or not.
It’s a mindset that stems from a deep faith carried by Ryan, who said, “I think the bottom line is how you see value in your relationships,” he said.
Ryan said he thinks people’s value comes from being “unique and special,” and not because of the credentials they pile up, “the size of their muscles” or “their fancy car.”
“Their value is a blessing because of who made them,” he said. “That’s how I see everybody in general.”
It’s been a driving force for Ryan’s coaching tactics.
“I think we coach on our own experiences and your views in life, your views on things,” Ryan said.
Redshirt sophomore, 174-pound Nick Heflin said he can relate to his coach’s perspective.
“I share the same strong faith, so I think I’m very blessed to be where I am,” Heflin said. “I know a lot of things just happen.”
Ryan has had to balance that approach with the responsibilities entrusted to him as coach of a prolific Big Ten wrestling program.
“Does it mean that you’re all over them? Well, of course you’re all over them; you challenge them. You try to get more out of them,” Ryan said. “At the end of the day, winning a national championship doesn’t make you any more unique than who made you.”
The Buckeyes, who haven’t won the Big Ten Championships since 1951, enter the tournament with six individual top-five pre-seeds in freshmen Hunter Stieber and Cam Tessari, redshirt freshmen Logan Stieber and Josh Demas, redshirt junior C.J. Magrum, and Heflin.
The pre-seeds, voted on by the conference’s coaches, rank the top eight wrestlers in seven different weight classes as well as three weight classes for every Big Ten school’s starters.
Most notably for OSU, Logan and Hunter Stieber earned No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in their respective weight classes.
Ryan said the focus heading to West Lafayette is to qualify all 10 wrestlers for the NCAA Championships.
“The bottom line is this team should leave the Big Ten with 10 guys going there (NCAAs),” Ryan said.
“That’s absolutely the goal. And that’s a realistic goal. Nothing special has to happen for us to qualify 10 guys.”
And for the Buckeyes to wrestle at such a level, Ryan said his team needs to bring the energy they have at home duals on the road with them.
“The good news is we know that we’ve got the energy,” Ryan said. “So if we see it at the Big Tens, it’s going to be a fun event for us.”
He said sometimes it’s hard to make clear to the team that while there might not be thousands of fans following the team to the competition, Buckeye Nation is rooting for them.
“You’re at a place that people are very passionate about what you’re doing — and they know what you’re doing — they’re with you,” Ryan said. “You may not hear them screaming, and yelling but there’s no question they’re with you wherever you go.”
Magrum said he thinks anything is possible if the Buckeyes wrestle to their full capability.
“There’s not a weak link on our team. Everybody on our team has the potential to do really well at Big Tens and if every guy wrestles like we did against Iowa in the dual meet, then we’re definitely in the running for it,” Magrum said. “Hopefully when it comes, it’ll be our time.”
For Ryan, it’s a moment that has been on his mind since the get-go.
“I think a great way to live is to try and to focus, whatever you do, on the end,” he said. “You focus on the end, on the desired result, and you work your way backward from there.”