I talked to Tom Ryan for 10 minutes on Friday, and, as soon as I hung up, I went after the kitchen chairs — single-leg takedown, ankle-pick, duck-under, pin, pin, pin. I finished off the last chair with a pile-driver, which is illegal, but the adrenaline … Ryan is perpetually fired up, and it’s infectious. My elbow hurts.
“We’re in the golden age of Ohio State wrestling,” Ryan said. “I landed in the middle of a fertile opportunity, an opportunity that (was) waiting to be seized. Now, we have a level playing field, and we are in the golden age.”
The way Ryan describes it, he was in the right place at the right time when the great state university decided to go all-in on wrestling. He has used the investment with purposeful aggression, prioritizing in-state recruiting (fertile ground), won a national team title (in 2015) and built a perennial contender (with verve). His force of personality has a lot to do with it.
Ryan sounds like Rocky Balboa’s trainer, Mickey. At any moment, he could say, If you ever get hoit, and you feel like you’re goin’ down, this little angel is going to whisper in your ear. He’s going to say GET UP YOU SON OF A … and anyone within earshot will leg-whip a chair.
Ryan is revving even higher than abnormal heading into Sunday, when Ohio State — ranked No. 1 or 2 in the nation, depending on the poll — hits the mat against Iowa — ranked No. 3 or 4, depending on the poll — at Value City Arena.
It’s Senior Day. Three of the greatest Buckeyes in program history will wrestle in front of a Columbus crowd for the last time in their collegiate careers — and they’re going against Iowa, where zygotes wear singlets.
“This is going to be a true battle,” Ryan said. “You’ve got two powerhouses with star-studded lineups. There’s not a layup in the dual. There is elite talent on both sides. Both teams believe they can win the NCAA championship.”
Ryan's voice goes up in pitch as he makes a case for Kyle Snyder being the best college wrestler ever: “He has two world titles and an Olympic gold medal, and he is the first college wrestler to step on a mat as an Olympic champion. I could go on … ”
Snyder is a heavyweight. Bo Jordan (174 pounds) is the defending Big Ten champion and a three-time All-American. Nathan Tomasello (125) is the 2015 NCAA champion and a three-time Big Ten champion.
These seniors have been training for an average of three hours a day, 365 days a year, for four years — just to prepare for this match. That is one way to look at it. Ryan likes that look. He has taken to Twitter in his campaign to sell out the Schott. He sees it as a tribute to this juncture of the golden age. He wants to set an attendance record and use it as a springboard for Cleveland, where the nationals will be held in March.
The indoor record for a dual meet is 15,996, set by Penn State in 2013. The way Ryan figures it, Ohio State is the only school in the land that can seat 19,000 in one room — so, if the Schott is packed on Sunday, the record will stand for all time. Presumably, there will come a day when Ryan throws down a mat in the ’Shoe and shoots for the outdoor record of 42,287, held by Iowa.
“There are very few times in your life when, after all the work you put into your sport, you have an opportunity to compete in an environment like this,” he said. “This is a moment in time to mark. Let’s have some traffic.”