Interview by Curt Heinrichs (conducted on Thursday, January 9, prior to the match against Wisconsin)
Curt Heinrichs- The season is just about at it’s midway point. Is there anyone whose performance in the 1st half really stands out to you?
Tom Ryan- I think Johnni DiJulius has really elevated his level of wrestling. He’s found a way to win matches against some really high level opponents so far.
CH – Is there anyone you think may be ready for a breakout in the 2nd half of the season?
TR- Kenny Courts. Kenny has had a good start. I think he’s capable and he knows that he needs to live a really disciplined life. We’re going to even better performances from him from this point on.
CH- I haven’t spoken with you in some time, so I wanted to rewind a little bit. Logan Stieber got upset by Retherford against Penn State. Do you think that loss sets the tone for the rest of the team?
TR- I think it didn’t help. We ran up against almost the perfect storm. Some things happen that you can’t control but you have to deal with. We traveled in a bad snow storm and got there 4 hours later than we thought we’d get there. Our training was thrown off and we were in a raucous environment against a well-coached, tough team. When you’re not at your best, these things happen to teams. The good news is that we have learned from it and will move on from there. We just needed to focus on the things that went well and make sure the other things don’t happen again.
CH- In the course of a few days, the team looked completely different against Kent State. What kind of adjustments did you make in those 4 days?
TR- We preach a lot of the same thing all the time, to be the best possible version of yourself that you can be. Regardless of the environment, regardless of your opponent, you need to show up at your best and compete. We did a much better job of that at Kent. Nothing against Kent State, but they aren’t as powerful as a team as Penn State. We need to see those kinds of performances against all of our opponents from this point forward.
CH- One thing that was always tough for me as a wrestler was keeping my weight down during the holidays. Do you find it nerve-wracking as a staff to try and compete with mom’s cooking during the in-season holidays?
TR- (Laughs) Sure. We give them a weight that they have to come back at. We haven’t competed against Kent in nearly a month, so that’s a long layoff. We put some things in place with hydration testing and managing weight the right way. They’re not fool-proof, but they really help to hold our guys accountable for their weight when they’re away from school. Even the greatest competitors need help focusing from time to time.
CH- You’re really getting into the thick of the Big Ten season. Is it a conscious effort to schedule tough pre-season events like the Las Vegas Invite to help guys get ready for the Big Ten?
TR- Yes, for sure. We try to schedule the preseason to figure out how we’re going to redshirt people or which guys are really standing out. I think we see that now. The reality of the sport is that dual meets matter, but ultimately they have no impact on the number of points you score at the national tournament, which is something I personally want to change. Any time you have the opportunity to represent your team or your school or your parents, obviously it matters, but at the NCAA tournament, they don’t care if you beat Wisconsin in a dual meet. Getting your entire team to nationals isn’t predicated on a dual meet. Until we get that, we make sure that our team is ready at the end of the year and that’s what we do leading up to nationals.
CH- You mentioned Wisconsin and Illinois and you’ll be seeing both teams this weekend on your road trip. What do you think it’s like for these guys going on the road for entire weekends with the semester just starting?
TR- We’re on a first class Coach bus that has beds and internet access. These guys get letters from their teachers and they’re accountable for their schoolwork. We left at 4 PM today (Thursday) and they’ll miss a full day of classes tomorrow. We’ll get back in the evening on Sunday and they’ll have to be ready for class on Monday morning. We communicate with the teachers and we make sure our guys are getting their schoolwork done. It’s a challenge in life, but one worth having. These guys understand what’s being expected of them.
CH- Next you’ve got Wisconsin, who are headed by Barry Davis, who was on staff at Iowa when you wrestled there. What’s it like going up against one of your old coaches with your own team?
TR- His locker was next to mine and he was a great mentor to me. Every event should be competitive, but you want to put your best product on the mat in special matches. I obviously have a lot of respect for Barry Davis. He was a great role model for me as a walk-on and I saw his great relationship with his family. He put in a lot of time with me in the mornings to improve technically and this match really means a lot.
CH- Are there any matches that you as a staff have coming up in these matches outside of guys like Jesse Delgado of Illinois and Tyler Graff of Wisconsin?
TR- Those are probably the two key matches, but Kenny Courts has a big weekend. He’s wrestling two top opponents. Hein has shown he can win big matches. Nick Heflin has a couple of tough ones, especially against Gonzales of Illinois, who was a Big Ten champion. Medbery at heavyweight will be a tough challenge for Tav. Up and down the lineup, there are a lot of big matchups.
CH- Coach, my last question has nothing to do with Ohio State wrestling, but is more of a question that stems from another of my favorite sports. You’ve coached NCAA champs and All-Americans, and you can also add a UFC champion to your resume with Chris Weidman defeating Anderson Silva for the 2nd time recently. When he was on your team, did you have any idea Weidman was destined to be the UFC Middleweight champion?
TR- When I was there (Hofstra) and recruited Chris, I think he’d go down as one of the most athletic people I had ever wrestled with. He has incredible hand strength, incredible speed, just overall incredible talent. I think he would admit that at that time, he wasn’t a professional. I don’t think he approached collegiate wrestling as a professional. He’s made adjustments and I’m just so proud of him. I see the way he carries himself and they way he gives interviews and he’s first class guy. In his junior year, he ended up upsetting the #1 seed at the NCAA tournament, (Wynn) Machalak from Central Michigan, I think it was. He ended up taking 5th that year. I knew his potential was through the roof and he clearly had the physical gifts. I am just so happy for Chris. He’s a great character guy. Great family. Great competitor. I couldn’t be happier to have worked with him and he deserves all of the success that he earns.