Curt Heinrichs 1) You graduated Nikko Triggas and CJ Magrum from last year’s team. Pete Capone also graduated, but is leaving a year of eligibility on the table. What’s the process like for you to try and replace that kind of experience?
Tom Ryan- I think the good news is that you can foresee some of the people who will be graduating and try to get a jump on replacing guys before they’re gone. We’ve got Nick Roberts, who is a redshirt freshman and a healthy Kenny Courts. He’s been healthy for about a year and a half, which is going to help us tremendously. Great people are hard to replace, but in this system names change but the program continues to progress.
CH 2) In addition to the graduations, you’re also going to be moving forward without a pair of last year’s starters unexpectedly. What’s the mood of the team after losing those guys.
TR- I think to some degree it’s the reality of the challenges of being a student-athlete at a big time program. It paints the picture that we’re about more than just wrestling. We’re about building life champions, which is kind of our mantra. We’ve got some great recruits coming in with Bo Jordan and Nathan Tomasello joining the team. In the early signing period, we’ve signed some really special guys and that signals a bright future for us. Losing Andrew (Campolattano) and Cam (Tessari) will hurt us on the mat, and we’ve got our work cut out for us to remain one of the elite programs in the country.
CH 3) You mentioned Nathan and Bo, so let’s continue along those lines. You brought in 2 of the most coveted recruits in the state of Ohio, let alone the whole country this year. Is your goal when recruiting to keep the best guys from Ohio in Ohio, or are you simply trying to fill your roster with whomever wants to wrestle for you, regardless of where they’re from?
TR- I guess both. The priority is that Ohio is one of the best wrestling states in the country and if we can keep some of the best guys in the state of Ohio, we’re going to be awfully competitive. The problem is that there are so many good guys in Ohio, that a lot of schools come in and recruit the guys. If another school comes in and offers a guy a full scholarship and we don’t really need someone at that weight, we let them go. The main thing is getting the guys that we want. In this recruiting class, we did a good job of signing the guys that we absolutely had to have.
CH 4) Logan Stieber and Nathan Tomasello and I know you can’t speak about (verbal commitment Kyle Snyder, who won a Junior World Championship this past week) Kyle officially just yet all have had success as freestyle wrestlers. What is it about freestyle wrestlers that you feel helps them to transition to being successful collegiate wrestlers.
TR- I think the fact that they train year-round is critical. We’re recruiting Kyle and winning Worlds is a sign of someone that’s eager to wrestle. Nathan and Bo are that way as well. I think the fact that we have the top Regional Training Center (the Ohio RTC has sent a number of competitors to the US National Team), these guys know that they’re going to be in a situation that they can win an Olympic gold medal and make World teams. They’re very aware of that around here.
CH 5) Changing gears a little bit, it’s been rumored that there will be a number of redshirts utilized this year. At this point, can you discuss who may be using those this season?
TR- Bo, Nathan, and Hunter Stiber will redshirt. Those are all absolutes. We’ve got great people behind them, so we feel strong about filling those spots. We’ve got Nick Roberts and Ian Paddock to step up, but Bo is going to be tough to replace. He’s a guy who came in with the goal to win 4 National Titles. In order to do that, we have to be in position to win the first one. Looking at some of the returning starters, the best thing for Bo and those other guys is going to sit them so they can get better. Once they come back, we’ll make a serious run at a National Championship.
CH 6) With redshirts, what are the kinds of things that factor into the decision to redshirt or not to redshirt a guy?
TR- There are so many variables, but it often boils down to “who are you going to put on the mat at that weight class?” What’s the back-up like? Looking at the landscape of college wrestling we’ve finished 2nd, 2nd, 7th, 8th. We want to be first. I think that our best chance of being first is to sit these guys and get them ready for the following season. Another factor is what’s best for the individual. Making sure that these guys come in as freshman and get 365 days of intense training under their belt is something that we try to do. Sometimes we can do it and sometimes we can’t.
CH 7) With all of the potential change-ups in the roster, what does your lineup look like at the moment?
TR- We’ll have Nick Roberts at 125. Johnni DiJulius will be at 133. Logan Stieber will be at 141. Ian Paddock has put on 8 lbs of lean muscle since the Big Ten tournament. He’ll be at 149. We had to hold him down last year because he was backing up Hunter, so he couldn’t gain the weight under NCAA rules. If he’d gained weight, he couldn’t have backed up Hunter if something happened to Hunter. Ian will be at 149. At 157, it’ll be interesting. (Josh) Demas is working through some things. He had surgery. Randy Languis may bump up. Justin Kresevic may bump up there. Someone has to really step up at those 2 weights knowing we’re going to redshirt Bo at 165.
CH- May we see the return of Derek Garcia to the lineup?
TR- Derek, unfortunately due to various injuries, won’t be wrestling for us anymore. That was a big loss for us. We’ve got some spots where some guys are really going to have to step up this year. At 174, we have Mark Martin. At 184 is Kenny Courts. 197 is Nick Heflin and heavyweight is Nick Tavanello.
CH 8) With your schedule just being released, are there any matches in particular you have circled on your calendar?
TR- We always have Michigan circled. We have the National Duals circled (which are taking place in Columbus this year). Vegas is a big event for us (Cliff Keene Las Vegas Wrestling Invitational). This season is about 1 match at a time. We have to be ready on November 3rd for the Clarion Open, so we’ll find out if we’re ready to go. We’re going to learn a lot about this team.
CH 9) Now let’s look at some of the leaders of the team. With the bump up in weight, do you think this is the year Nick Heflin makes a serious run at the NCAA title?
TR- Last year, he was an escape away from being in the NCAA semis when he wrestled (eventual NCAA champion Chris) Perry. Nick has shown that he can knock on the door. Now it’s time for him to break it in. I think one of the main reasons he’s going 197 is to win it. He’s tall, big, and strong. His goal is unquestionably to win a National Championship and we believe he can do that at 197.
CH- Do you think his defensive style play better at 197 than previously at 174?
TR- Despite our attempts and the amount of hours we’ve put in with Nick on his leg attacks, he’s very strong and has good leverage. At times we get to see his leg attacks in matches. He’s a very good counter-wrestler and he’s hard to hold down. All of those little things lead to a lot of victories. He’s been here for 4 years now and I don’t think things will dramatically change for Nick. Despite the fact that we know he can do it, I don’t think we’ll see a guy hit multiple leg attacks in a match. He knows how to win. He’s a competitor and he knows how to win. We aren’t going to try and change too much about that.
CH 10) With Logan (Stieber) chasing his 3rd NCAA Championship, what challenges will he face this year that he hasn’t faced before?
TR- I think first and foremost, Logan is humble. He’s very humble. I don’t think he looks past anybody and he has a tremendous work ethic. We’ve looked back together at history and there were several guys on track to win 4 before Pat Smith ever did it and the 3rd year got them. There are some leverage issues at 141. I ultimately believe that people are going to see a Logan Stieber that’s more intense, more aggressive than we ever saw at 133. He was cutting a lot of weight to keep his brother in the lineup, but he just feels better at 141. I’m certain we’re going to see a very aggressive wrestler. Not that he wasn’t already; he was the most dominant wrestler in the NCAA last year based on opponents and margin of victory. I think we’re going to see a guy who’s going to attack more.
CH 11) You’ve got a lot of new faces hitting the mat this season. What wrestler do you feel will open some eyes around the country this year?
TR- I think Kenny Courts will. I think he did a little bit last year, but we expect a lot more consistency out of him. This is a guy who, at one point, was wrestling 184 with 150 lbs of lean muscle. He’s now at about 160 lbs of lean muscle. His body is changing and getting stronger. I think Mark Martin is going to open up some eyes. He was 2-2 at Nationals as a freshman. The score was 1-0 with (4 time NCAA Champion Kyle) Dake with 30 seconds to go in the match at the National tournament. Nick Tavanello won 4 tournaments last year. We have a lot of guys that need to step up. I think Johnni DiJulius and Nick Roberts are capable of being high on the podium. Those are the guys that are going to have to do the job or it’ll be a long year for the Buckeyes.