It's been a long journey to Ohio State for Anthony Echemendia, literally and figuratively.
The Cuban-born standout and Arizona high school state champ was originally committed to wrestle at Iowa State, but reopened his commitment last fall and took official visits to several top programs including Iowa and Arizona State before pledging to the Buckeyes in mid-November.
Originally slated to enroll shortly after committing, it took a bit longer to clear the academic hurdles necessary to officially join the program.
"I was supposed to get into Ohio State in December but because of my SAT score, I couldn’t get into Ohio State because they were asking me for a higher score," Echemendia told Eleven Warriors Friday. "I started taking English classes to take the SAT again to get a better score, but today they gave me the news that I was admitted to Ohio State in May without taking the SAT again."
He and Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan confirmed Friday that the waiting is over.
I cant wait to wrestle https://t.co/9mzJXsEybu— Anthony Echemendia (@AnthonyEchemen1) March 6, 2020
Ryan told Eleven Warriors that the process of recruiting an international athlete was more complex, which added to the time it took to get Echemendia cleared academically.
"We should have had him in December, but there was a lot to process with admissions and with his status as a citizen," Ryan told Eleven Warriors. "They’ve had the time to sort it out now, and the legal team weighed in and they’ve had time to evaluate it and admit him."
He praised the Athletic Department's compliance team, calling it "the premier compliance office in the country." They're now responsible for ushering Echemendia through the NCAA Eligibility Center.
Coming to America
Echemendia's story is not that of your typical blue-chip recruit, to put it mildly. Leaving his native Cuba in 2018 to train at the Olympic Training Center of Guatemala, he made his way to Mexico and eventually to the Texas border where he claimed political asylum.
A season at Arizona's Sunnyside High School brought a state championship at 152 pounds, and his stock went through the roof during the freestyle season – particularly after he won both the Greco-Roman and Freestyle brackets at the Junior National Championships in Fargo, going a flawless 14-0 across both disciplines, outscoring his competition by a combined 139-10.
His eye-popping performance at Fargo propelled him to the top of a lot of school's whiteboards. Tom Ryan was relentless in his pursuit, however, and the relationship he built with the recruit was one of the biggest reasons Ohio State was able to seal the deal.
"I feel like he’s not just my coach, he’s my friend," Echemendia said of Ryan. "He’s always honest when he talks to me. Even if he’s going to tell me something I won’t like to hear, he’s going to tell me the truth."
“God is good, and today [Ohio State] gave me the best news of my life. I’m really, really happy today.”– Anthony Echemendia
Ryan in turn praised Echemendia for his unwavering commitment to Ohio State. He said Echemendia was an outstanding student back in Cuba, saying he had good grades and good test scores.
Three months of waiting for academic eligibility were no doubt stressful for both men, and for Echemendia it meant more overtures from other top programs.
"A lot of schools were telling me, if you’re not going to Ohio State, if you don’t want to go to Ohio State, we can talk about your eligibility to get into college, we can give you a lot of good stuff, full rides everywhere," Echemendia said. "A lot of good options, but I thought Ohio State was the best option for me."
When asked why he "stayed strong" in his commitment to the Buckeye program, Echemendia said the Buckeyes offered him the best all-around opportunity as an athlete and as a student.
"I went to the top schools in the United States for wrestling, and when I went to Ohio State I fell in love with the people, with the coaches, with the great support, with the team and with the opportunity you can get after you graduate from Ohio State, a lot of opportunities," he said. "It’s a great opportunity, to be part of The Ohio State University."
He spoke highly of the relationships he's already forming with his teammates in Columbus. Although he won't officially be on the roster until summer classes start in May, he's in communication regularly with members of the team who have supported him throughout the academic eligibility process.
One thing he would not speculate about, however, is where he fits in the Buckeye lineup. When it looked like he might enroll in December, many fans hoped he could immediately inject some life into the 157-pound spot; at the time, Echemendia said via Instagram that he wanted to wrestle 141/149.
When asked about it Friday, however, he said, "That's all on Tom Ryan. He’s going to be the one telling me my weight class, because he’s the coach – I’m the athlete."
Ryan was equally circumspect about where Echemendia might best fit the lineup. He said once May rolls around and Echemendia starts truly training like a Buckeye, the staff would evaluate his weight and conditioning to make a determination.
Watching him roll with Quinn Kinner last weekend, it's not hard to see the agile Cuban taking a swing at 157 next season.
Regardless of where he wrestles, he brings a lot of energy, enthusiasm and raw talent to the roster. For a man who has been on one of the longest journeys to Columbus in Buckeye wrestling history, he is also one of the most grateful.
"God is good, and today [Ohio State] gave me the best news of my life," Echemendia said. "I’m really, really happy today."