Ohio State wrestler Ke-Shawn Hayes rolled into the 2016-2017 season fresh off a 29-1 unattached record in his redshirt campaign. Credit: Courtesy of OSU Athletics

Following Ohio State’s Nov. 22 dual meet against Kent State last season, wrestler Ke-Shawn Hayes was back home in Kansas City, Missouri, training over Thanksgiving break when his breakout season was stopped dead in its tracks.

“I went to hit a move on bottom, and [my knee] popped real loud,” Hayes said. “Then I couldn’t stand up.”

The pop Hayes felt resulted in season-ending knee surgery with an injury that could possibly be traced back to a few months prior.

“I think it first happened the end of my redshirt year,” Hayes said. “There was just kind of, like a pop but it wasn’t that bad. I was still wrestling and stuff.”

Hayes, a former top-20 overall recruit, was rated as one of the nation’s 15 best wrestlers at the 141-pound weight class entering the 2016-2017 season.

Hayes began the season with a 5-1 record, including two wins by technical fall and one by pin. His lone loss was to the second-ranked Kevin Jack.

“I thought [Hayes] could have won the nationals,” Ohio State wrestling head coach Tom Ryan said.

Learning his season was over soon after it began was a tough blow for Hayes.

“It was heartbreaking. I’ve always felt because I came in at 141 after Logan [Stieber], I always kind of felt that pressure of taking over for one of the best college wrestlers in history,” Hayes said. “To not be able to wrestle my first season, I felt I was letting some people down.”

Hayes rehabbed well enough to not only return this season, but open it with a 6-0 record, including a win in the 149-pound weight division at the Princeton Open.

“He’s just diligent,” Ryan said. “That’s just the way he does things. He’s systematic, consistent, he cares about the sport. So I’m not surprised that he handled his rehab the way he did.”

That’s not to say that the process of a full recovery was easy for Hayes.

“It was frustrating,” Hayes said. “There was a lot of little details and little exercises that I didn’t want to really do. The frustrating part was that I wanted it to go faster, but it took a really long time. Wil [Turner], our trainer, made sure that he kept me at a good pace, a safe pace, so that I couldn’t re-injure it or anything. But I definitely tried to get him to let me go as fast as I could.”

Now back to a 100 percent, Hayes said the injury has helped improve the mental aspects of his game, working this summer to become more aggressive on the attack.

With rehab behind him, Hayes expects to make strides in his wrestling style while the Buckeyes contend for a national title.

“Improve every time I step out on the mat, and put the best version of myself on the mat that I can,” Hayes said.