Recruiting has been a strength for Ohio State's wrestling program throughout the Tom Ryan tenure. From keeping some of the state's best at home to bringing in the best from around the country, the Buckeye staff has consistently attracted top talent to Columbus.
As of Monday morning, the 2022 recruiting cycle is officially underway.
June 15th the Elite student-athletes in the graduating class of 2022 will be contacted by our staff. Proof of the opportunities created by a life well lived. Born to be a BUCKEYE! @wrestlingbucks pic.twitter.com/cE0LPoVARK— Thomas Ryan (@Buckeye158) June 13, 2020
With Kollin Moore and Luke Pletcher graduated, a good chunk of the team's projected NCAA tournament points walked out the door. A strong nucleus of talent remains from the stellar 2018 and 2019 classes, and returning starters like Sammy Sasso and Kaleb Romero will be expected to step up in a big way, while fans will get their first look at potential superstars like Carson Kharchla and Anthony Echemendia.
After signing large classes in both '18 and '19, the Buckeyes added just two last year, with Echemendia and St. Edward's middleweight Bryce Hepner the only enrollees in the class of 2020. The program also added transfer heavyweight Tate Orndorff from Utah Valley State during the offseason.
When Ryan and staff hit the (digital) trail to chat up the nation's top sophomores, here's a look at who they're most likely to call based on the team's biggest areas of need.
Seth Shumate - Already Committed
No. 4 Overall Prospect (FloWrestling) – 195 pounds
Dublin Coffman standout Seth Shumate is the top prospect off the board in the class, having announced his pledge to wrestle for the Buckeyes last August. In addition to winning a state title as a freshman, the young gun made a big splash in Fargo last summer, winning the 195-pound Cadet National Championship in both freestyle and Greco-Roman.
When a local star picks the Buckeyes that commitment generally sticks, but there's no doubt the staff will be showing him plenty of love throughout the cycle. Ohio State has no shortage of talent in the upper weights currently, and Shumate looks like he'll carry that torch well into the future.
Nic Bouzakis – Wyoming Seminary (Penn.)
No. 1 Overall Prospect – 126 pounds
If there is one glaring area of immediate need for Ohio State, it's in the light weights. Malik Heinselman picked up some steam at the Big Ten Championships this spring, but hasn't quite lived up to his blue-chip status. Likewise at 133 Jordan Decatur was one of the top-ranked recruits of his class, but didn't qualify for the NCAA tournament in his true freshman season.
Picking up the top-rated lightweight recruit in the class won't solve the immediate need, but it's clear that finding 125- and 133-pound stars is the highest priority for Tom Ryan's recruiting guru Anthony Ralph.
Bouzakis won the 2020 National Prep Wrestling Championship in February, and was last summer's Outstanding Wrestler in Fargo. Wyoming Seminary is one of the nation's top prep wrestling programs, and Ohio State will be one of several Division I schools making a play for this talented lightweight.
Ryan Crookham – Notre Dame Prep (Penn.)
No. 2 Overall Prospect – 126 pounds
See a theme developing? With the lack of depth on the roster at 125 and 133 (FloWrestling described the need at these weights as "Threat Level Midnight"), it's imperative that Ryan and Ralph hit on some lightweights the way they have the middle- and upper weights in recent cycles.
Crookham won his second PIAA Class 2A championship this March, having moved up to 126 from 120 his freshman season. The championship bout was his 100th career victory against just three losses.
"He's just constantly trying to evolve his game,” Notre Dame coach Matt Veres told Lehigh Valley Live. “Being a national champ is important, but he wants to be a world champ. Pushing to that level every day is just something that's really motivating him and I don't think he's going to stop until he gets to that goal.”
Veres said his young star has dreams of being a World and Olympic champion. With Olympic medalist Tervel Dlagnev on staff and world champion Logan Stieber still associated with the program, Ohio State has plenty to offer a wrestler with such lofty goals.
Jesse Mendez – Crown Point (Ind.)
No. 3 Overall Prospect – 132 pounds
The top end of this class is dominated by the weights Ohio State needs to recruit the most, so it's no surprise that the Buckeyes are heavily focused on wrestlers in the Top 10 of FloWrestling's current prospect rankings.
Mendez is a two-time Indiana high school champ, having won the 126-pound title as a freshman and the 132-pound championship this spring. He is 81-1 over his first two seasons, and won the Cadet Folkstyle Nationals in 2019 along with winning FloNationals and Cadet Freestyle Nationals at 60 kg.
Mendez probably projects more as a 141-pounder than a true 133, but with several possible lineup combinations from 141-157 over the next three or four years, Mendez could potentially check a few different boxes for the Buckeyes.
Rylan Rogers – Blair Academy (N.J.)
No. 7 Overall Prospect – 182 pounds
Rogers is a Washington native recruited to wrestle for one of the East Coast's most prolific wrestling powerhouses. This season he won the 182-pound Prep National title, validating the decision to move 2,000 miles from home to pursue the best competition in the country.
His freshman season saw him make the quarterfinals of the Prep National tournament, filling in at 195. This season he rounded into form at 182, winning the Walsh Jesuit Ironman ahead of his Prep National victory to finish the year.
"The West Coast is good wrestling-wise, but the power states like Pennsylvania and Ohio and New Jersey — that’s where you’re going to find the best competition throughout the country," Rogers told his hometown newspaper this spring. "I think it’s raised my level of wrestling.”
Ohio State has a good bit more depth at the upperweights relative to the first few names discussed, but bringing in a big man who moves as well as Rogers does is never a bad idea. You could easily see him following in the footsteps of someone like Myles Martin and making a name for himself with the quality of coaching and training partners in the room at Ohio State.
Nick Feldman – Malvern Prep (Penn.)
No. 11 Overall Prospect – 195 pounds
As an immediate need for Ohio State with the addition of Orndorff to the lineup this offseason along with Greco specialist Nicholas Boykin, but two years from now when Orndorff is out of the picture they'll be looking to someone from one of the next two classes to step up and fill that void.
Seth Shumate is already in the class at this weight, so adding someone like Feldman is about having depth and options. Feldman's father was an All American heavyweight at Virginia Tech, so the Hokies may have the inside track on this one, but there is interest from Ohio State in one of the premier big men in this class.
What About the Class of 2021?
So far Ohio State has just one – admittedly very good – commitment in the current class. Paddy Gallagher, Ohio's 2020 Most Outstanding Wrestler, became the poster child for the class back in December.
The St. Edward's standout had a huge 2019, winning a state title in March and a Junior National Freestyle title at Fargo last summer. He is the No. 7 prospect in the class on FloWrestling's 2021 Big Board, and seems destined to be Ohio State's 165-pounder of the future (assuming Carson Kharchla moves up to 174 at some point).
But there is no doubt Ryan and Ralph are working diligently on adding at least one more name to the class before signing day. Here are some names to know:
Richard Figueroa II – Selma (Calif.), 113 pounds
Figueroa is the top-rated prospect in the class and the answer to Buckeye fans' prayers for another top-kick lightweight and now. Although committed to Arizona State, the California sensation is still considering his options and Ohio State is very much in the mix.
This one will go down to signing day, but Tom Ryan has had success flipping commitments before, most recently with Anthony Echemendia. Figueroa has won just about every tournament you can think of, from Who's #1 to the Super 32 to the Doc B.
Shayne Van Ness – Blair Academy, 132 pounds
Van Ness finished his junior season as the top-ranked 132 in the country, winning his second Prep National title in February. He defeated Jesse Mendez last summer at Who's #1, and is Flo's No. 2 overall prospect in the class.
He told Flo at the end of April that Ohio State was one of his Top 6 schools, along with Princeton, Michigan, Cornell, Penn State and Rutgers. He intends to visit all six programs, though clearly COVID-19 has delayed that process.
Van Ness could be a logical successor to Sammy Sasso at 149, particularly if Sasso moves up to 157 at some point.
Andre Gonzales – Poway (Calif.), 106 pounds
Another highly-rated lightweight, Gonzales is a prospect who feels like he has an incredible amount of upside potential. He announced himself last summer at Fargo, winning the Junior freestyle and Greco-Roman championships at 106 pounds.
He followed that up with a California state title this season and finished the season as the No. 2 ranked 106 in the country. He listed Ohio State as one of his Top 5 last month, along with Stanford, Cornell, Missouri and Wisconsin.
While Figueroa is the prize of the class, Gonzales would be a solid get if his fellow Californian sticks with the Sun Devils.
Others In the Mix
Several other big-time recruits have listed Ohio State among their consideration set.
Pennsylvania state champ Nate Schon, a future heavyweight, is noteworthy as he projects more as a true big and would slot in after Tate Orndorff pretty well. He's considering Penn, Pitt, NC State and Rutgers along with the Buckeyes.
No. 5 rated prospect Cael (pronounced "Ky-Ell") Valencia has Ohio State among his Top 8, though as the younger brother of Zahid and Anthony it seems a strong possibility that he ends up at Arizona State, too. Ohio State already has Paddy Gallagher in the class, so they're pretty well set for a 160-pounder in this class.
Braxton Brown of Allen, Texas, is another lightweight to list Ohio State among his Top 6. Coming from a program that has produced the likes of Bo Nickal, Brown has certainly been exposed to solid coaching and has won three Lone Star State titles in his first three seasons of competition. In a quirky bit of trivia, Ohio State was once home to Allen product Braeden Redlin; Redlin transferred to Little Rock, which is also one of Brown's Top 6 schools.