A photo features a small child having his hand raised by referee while wearing a black singlet that reads “Buckeyes” on the chest and “OSU” over the left leg.
That child is Ohio State freshman wrestler Brakan Mead. That photo currently adorns the profile of Mead’s Twitter account.
“It was a dream my whole life and now it’s a reality,” Mead said.
On Oct. 8, All-American redshirt senior Nathan Tomasello sustained a right knee injury which will likely keep him out the first two months of the season. It left a gaping hole at the 125-pound class of the Buckeyes’ lineup, which is currently ranked second in the nation.
Ohio State’s reserves at 125 pounds consisted only of freshmen. On Oct. 19, Mead and Brady Koontz wrestled for the right to represent the loaded Buckeyes at the class. One fact might have given Mead an advantage.
The stands at the wrestle-offs were filled with his family, friends and high-school coaches. Mead is a product of Olentangy Liberty High School, born and raised in Columbus. He pinned Koontz in the first match and won by points in the second. The 125-pound class belongs to the hometown kid, at least for now.
“It definitely means a lot especially because I’m home,” Mead said. “I know that all the matches, I’m going to have family there and coaching staffs from my past.”
Less than eight months ago, Mead was in high school. On March 11, he won a state championship at 113 pounds after amassing a 45-4 record during his senior season. That might be quite the accomplishment, but Mead now wrestles alongside gifted athletes such as senior heavyweight Kyle Snyder, an Olympic gold medalist.
“We’re ranked No. 2 in the country right now, and I think it’s a really good feeling,” Mead said. “But that’s part of it here. That’s why I’m here. I think that’s why everybody chose here. I think that’s the culture that we’ve built and that’s the atmosphere that’s been built by the guys that are in the lineup right now.”
Head coach Tom Ryan, who had to pull Mead’s redshirt in order for the freshman to compete this season, praised Mead’s character while acknowledging the daunting task that stands before him.
“There is nothing easy about what he’s trying to do,” Ryan said. “He has a monster undertaking. As a true freshman that was a lighter weight class coming in, it’ll be a real challenge for him.”
Both Ryan and Mead’s high-school head coach Mark Marinelli described the freshman as a “lighter” wrestler in the NCAA 125-pound class.
Mead’s personality almost seems to eclipse his size. Confidence is not an issue for Mead, Marinelli said.
“He’s 6-foot-8,” he said. “He’s 6-foot-8, 350 pounds and he can move the jive. He’s got lots of confidence and he’s great.”
Marinelli spoke of Mead like a family member. He first knew what he had in his gym during Mead’s freshman year, when he saw Mead’s attitude while wrestling larger opponents who were more skilled. He said Mead always believes he’s going to win, regardless of who he is facing. His greatest test is yet to come.
“Ohio State is so good in wrestling right now. You have to be a great wrestler just to be on the team,” Marinelli said. “Right now, all the stars are aligning the way he wants them to and he’s taken advantage of it.”
One could wonder whether anyone in Mead’s position could truly be ready for what is to come in the next two months before Tomasello’s return from injury. Mead does not wonder.
“I never have a doubt about that,” Mead said. “I think that I’m ready to go. I think that the team and the staff believes that I’m ready to go. I know me and my support system believe that I’m ready to go. I’m just going to go and compete.”
On top of the support system that includes his family and coaches, there is another person that will be happy to supply Mead with guidance. That person is Tomasello.
Tomasello is a former national champion. He’s a three-time All-American and individual Big Ten champion. He’s competed internationally. For now, he can’t be much more than a coach to Mead.
“Each practice, if I see something, I’m going to point it out to him,” Tomasello said. “I feel like we have a pretty good relationship now so when we go to tournaments, I’m going to try to go to as many tournaments as I can when I’m not wrestling.”
Ryan praised Tomasello’s leadership as a captain. Mead is a possible replacement for Tomasello when the decorated senior graduates. The freshman called Tomasello “unreal” and cited his tendencies to live right and lead by example as reasons why he looks up to the NCAA champion.
“Nate has helped me out,” Mead said. “He’s helped me be a better person and he’s helped me be a better wrestler in a really short time since I’ve been here. I owe a lot to him.”
With Ohio State and Mead’s first dual meet against Arizona State n Columbus Sunday looming, it leaves one to wonder how the hometown freshman will fare in his time filling in for the All-American.
“Anybody could go down at any time,” Ryan said. “You better be ready to knock the door down when it’s your chance.”