Ohio State senior wrestling captain Colt Sponseller, 165 pounds, and redshirt junior Sean Nemec, 157 pounds, were once competing rivals, wrestling twice in high school. When they became Buckeyes, their competition evolved into a competitive friendship in which they pushed each other to be better athletes.
Sponseller said making the transition from competitive rival to teammate and friend came easy for him.
“Up through high school I think we viewed each other as competitors and people we wanted to beat,” he said.
In high school they wrested each other twice: once during their sophomore year and another their senior year. Nemec won the first meeting and Sponseller won the last.
“I was a little beat up at the time. I’ll give myself a little excuse,” Nemec said laughing. “I lost.”
Coach Tom Ryan recruited both of them at the same time. Ryan said the idea of training together and wrestling in separate weight classes were strong selling points for both Nemec and Sponseller.
“Despite the fact that they competed against each other their senior year, they knew we knew they would separate weight classes,” Ryan said. “It’s a really healthy situation when two guys can work with each other and challenge each other and grow.”
Sponseller said, “It kind of goes from two extremes: You go from competitors to really friends.”
Nemec and Sponseller have been drill partners for the majority of their college careers. Sponseller said they worked out religiously together their freshman and sophomore years.
Nemec said Sponseller’s strong cardio and ability to wrestle for a long period of time has helped him in his conditioning and has made him a better wrestler.
“That’s someone to push me out of my comfort zone and really burn my lungs up,” Nemec said. “He helped me the most with that.”
Nemec has helped Sponseller become a better wrestler, too. Sponseller credits Nemec for being one of the best technical wrestlers he has seen.
“He has a lot of stuff a lot of people don’t have,” Sponseller said. “He throws a lot of things that I don’t see every day at me, and it’s good. It helps me improve.”
Sponseller has had a career full of success at OSU, qualifying for the NCAA Tournament twice, including this year with his runner-up finish Sunday at the Big Ten Tournament.
Ryan called Sponseller “a rock” of the team.
“One guy, in Colt, has been a rock here,” Ryan said. “His work ethic, foundation to the program … his desire.”
Nemec’s career, however, has been plagued by injury. He will not return for his senior season, having to undergo a second shoulder surgery that will keep him out of action next season. He will graduate winter 2012.
“He’s had a career of injuries,” Ryan said. “It’s been a rough road for Nemec. I don’t think four years from when we met Sean, and recruited Sean, we felt we’d be in this situation.”
Ryan said it has been great having both athletes on his team. He said Nemec and Sponseller still would both be with the team next season, helping out in the gym and continuing to lead.