Steve Muza / For the Lantern
Apparently Luke Fickell’s coaching forte isn’t limited to Saturdays in Ohio Stadium.
A 106-0 record on his way to three wrestling state championships at local St. Francis DeSales High School in Columbus, Ohio, could have a little to do with that.
The 38-year-old defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for the Ohio State football team served as the honorary coach for the OSU wrestling team’s 24-13 win against Michigan Friday night.
“Coach Ryan’s done an unbelievable job at making sure that everybody understands what the rivalry is all about and it shows,” Fickell said to The Lantern after the dual.
For OSU, it was not only a win against their longtime rival, but also step back in the right direction after a loss at Penn State less than a week earlier.
For Fickell, though, it was a chance to see for himself the same OSU wrestling team that toppled No. 2 Iowa for the first time since 1966.
“I think from top to bottom they are very good,” Fickell said. “There are no gaps in the lineup. When you see seven freshmen out there, that is amazing.”
The Buckeyes, who improved to 10-3 and 4-3 in the Big Ten, are arguably one of the youngest teams in not only the conference, but the nation.
“This is the most freshmen I’ve ever put in a lineup ever by far,” said OSU coach Tom Ryan.
Being ranked No. 6 in the nation, though, suggests it’s a non-factor.
While OSU was able to win six of the 10 matches against the Wolverines, pins by redshirt freshman Logan Stieber and freshman Andrew Campolattano provided a cushion of bonus points for the Buckeyes.
Fickell, who served as the football teams head coach in 2011, said he knew the pins for OSU were important.
“There’s the difference in a match right there,” he said. “I mean, not just momentum, but, you know, the extra six points, you can’t make up for those things.”
Throughout the dual, Fickell sat matside between the OSU wrestlers, juggling his duties as honorary coach with being a fan and the father of four.
There were times where he, like Ryan, appeared ready to jump out of his chair and coach whoever was on the mat for the Buckeyes.
Then there were instances where Fickell appeared to be more of a fan, similar to the way the electric crowd of 5,012 did much of the night.
And there were the moments where he’d transition from the former back into a dad, who sat with his kids on his lap.
Ryan said Fickell’s presence shows the respect he has for not only the OSU wrestling team, but the entire sport.
“Luke was raised in a wrestling home,” Ryan said. “There’s no way to be as good as he was in wrestling and not go through the hardships of really getting physically beat up.”
OSU 149-pound freshman Cam Tessari said it meant a lot to him and the team that Fickell was with them as honorary coach.
“He’s a great guy and did a good job this season. I’m excited to meet him, I’m real excited for it,” Tessari said.
Stieber agreed having Fickell by their side would be a memorable experience.
“I know he’s one of the best high school wrestlers in Ohio history,” Stieber said.
Fickell’s track record suggests that maybe his greatest trait is his toughness.
In his junior year of high school, Fickell pinned 29 of his 31 wrestling opponents.
As a nose guard on OSU’s football team, he started a school record of 50 straight games and played in the 1997 Rose Bowl win against Arizona State with a torn pectoral muscle.
Ryan said it’s Fickell’s perseverance in the face of being knocked around that makes him special.
“The ones that endure it and come back tomorrow are the ones that are great,” Ryan said. “He always did that.