Logan Stieber: Ohio State Wrestling Is Here to Stay
by Garth Gartrell
Contributor to OhioStateBuckeyes.com
In the late 1990's, Mike Kluding lived about a half mile down the highway from Jeff and Tina Stieber's Norwalk, Ohio home. One day as Mike was driving his pickup, he watched as the six and seven year old Hunter and Logan Stieber were running in sweatsuits along the side of the road. He slowed down to ask the boys what they were up to. As comfortable as if they were standing still, they calmly explained they were doing their wrestling condition by jogging as far as Mike's mailbox before returning home.
Fast forward to Sunday, March 8, 2015. The Ohio State wrestling team was in route to claiming its first Big Ten wrestling championship in 64 years, at home in front of 9,000 euphoric fans crammed into St. John Arena. There on the podium was Logan Stieber, receiving his fourth Big Ten championship trophy. As host, Ohio State dug into its wrestling past to have its NCAA finalists award trophies in each class (they also included a few other luminaries such as Luke Fickell, Ohio State football defensive coordinator and former high school wrestling champion from DeSales). In a poetic gesture for his last athletic appearance on campus, senior Logan Stieber received his trophy from his weight coach, Ohio State assistant coach J. Jaggers, also a Cleveland area prodigy who was a former two time NCAA champion.
"I can't put into words what J. Jaggers has meant to me. Without him and (fellow assistant) Lou Rosselli, I would not be where I am today."
Where is he? On track to become only the fourth wrestler in NCAA history to win four national titles when competition starts Thursday, March 19 in St. Louis. He is the most decorated wrestler in Ohio State history and headed to iconic status in the sport.
But he is more than that. Bob Hunter, a long time journalist focused mostly on Ohio State football wrote a wonderful book on the forgotten life of Chic Harley. Hunter peered through the cobwebs of history to bring to life the story of a man who electrified Ohio State football partisans in the early part of the 20th century. So much so that, Bob Hunter speculated, without Harley, the arc of Ohio State football might have resembled the actual relative flatline, of, say, the Indiana University.
It is likely that in Logan Stieber we are witnessing the emergence of OSU wrestling's version of Chic Harley, whose popularity was directly attributable to the construction of Ohio Stadium. While Ohio State wrestling has had its stars throughout the years, the program has suffered through the same kind of relative non-distinction as Indiana football.
Wrestling has witnessed deep event provoked changes in alignment before, such as when Dan Gable, famed collegiate and Olympic wrestler, was hired as an assistant at the University of Iowa. As he moved into the head coach's chair he turned a school and a conference into decades long (and still going strong) powers.
It usually takes a number of people to trigger an epochal changing event. In this case, it started with an athletic director, Gene Smith, who cared enough to choose wisely in selecting a coach that he could promise would have the tools to build a title contender. It took that coach, Tom Ryan, to invest the time and emotional energy to build all facets of a program that would attract wrestlers from talent rich Ohio and beyond.
It took a wrestling room assembled by Coach Ryan that would feel like home to aspiring champions--filled with the greats of the past as they continue careers in wrestling--people like Jaggers, and past national freestyle champs and Olympic hopeful Buckeyes JD Bergman and Reece Humphrey.
It took the nurturing of parents like Jeff and Tina, and encouraging and understanding friends and neighbors like Mike Kluding. It took the formative coaching of people like Erik Burnett, Scott Bauer and Ohio's living legend Jeff Jordan. It probably also in part took the rich athletic tradition advanced on the gridiron, starting with Chic Harley and continuing today in the person of Urban Meyer--probably the most prominent fan of Buckeye wrestling who stood matside as Logan won his latest Big Ten title.
It also took the love and the inspiration given by a brother like Hunter Stieber.
Maybe it also requires enmity with a villain and controversy, of which Stieber has engendered plenty. Big Twelve fans go apoplectic over his first NCAA title because they feel a last second takedown by Oklahoma State's Jordan Oliver was denied by the referee (though Oliver's own mother isn't sure even she agrees).
Iowans, always jealous of their place atop the wrestling world continue to seethe over Stieber's second NCAA win in front of a packed Des Moines arena just weeks after Stieber's overtime Big Ten championship sudden victory win over Iowan Tony Ramos. In the NCAA finals, Iowans thought Ramos was unfairly denied two near fall points in a wild scramble. And anyone who saw it will never forget Ramos' crazy wild pre-match prolonged glares at Stieber and Stieber's infuriating non-reaction as he nonchalantly listened to music in his coach's chair.
But in the end, a monumental change in a program's fortunes requires someone to actually go out and inspire from the mat. It requires someone who others think of when they conjure up the greats of the past--someone about whom they can dream, "here I am, wrestling on the same campus, representing the same university that he did."
After ending the long winter of Ohio State wrestling by finally winning a Big Ten title, Coach Ryan declared, "Ohio State wrestling is here to stay." Coach Ryan deserves an ovation because he more than anyone off the mat is responsible for the truth of that statement, but even he knows, without Logan Stieber's decision to attend Ohio State, and the subsequent decision of Hunter to join Logan, this projection would not be possible.
Stieber has remained the constant reliable force for Buckeye wrestling. Amateur Wrestling News recently summed up his dominance by saying "Stieber has ruined the 141 pound weight class." His influence also extends up and down a roster that as a whole can seriously contend to bring Ohio State its first national title.
Obviously, Hunter's decision to come to Ohio State was directly attributable to Logan's choice. Although injured this year, Hunter, a junior, is a former Big Ten champ, a third place national finisher, and a person whose courage in wrestling with two damaged elbows made the team's 2015 Big Ten Title possible. Logan offers, "Hunter's wrestling with no arms was one of the most inspiring/selfless things I had ever seen."
In the wrestling room, Logan's maniacal devotion to getting better inspires others to do the same and of course there is something everyone can borrow from his technique. His quiet support for his teammates, and his transformation off the mat from devoted competitor to fun loving college student, makes him a natural person to befriend and follow.
This year's individual Buckeye title contenders include high school contemporary Johnni DiJulius who was directly swayed by Logan's decision to attend Ohio State. They include later generation recruits like freshmen Nathan Tomasello, Bo Jordan and Kyle Snyder who were swayed to one extent or another to come to Ohio State because of Logan's historic journey.
Tomasello recounts: "Logan was one of the guys I looked up to when I was going into high school. He had just won his fourth state championship when I won my first. I saw the gains he made after coming to Ohio State and I knew that this program would help me achieve my goals."
And the recruiting tree continues. Tomasello adds that Logan is the one every recruit wants as his host for official visits. Now it is true, because Logan's next venture will play out in the Ohio State wrestling room as he attempts to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, recruits will get to train with him.
However, great new Ohio State commits like Jose Rodriguez and Keyshawn Hayes are just as interested to train with Stieber's legacy--Tomasello, Jordan and Snyder. Someday recruits will come to also walk in the shoes of Rodriguez and Hayes as much as those of DiJulius, Tomasello, Jordan and Snyder.
Like Harley, Stieber is also having an effect on the physical facilities on campus. On the backs of "Stieber Fever," the wrestling and sports community is getting behind the building of a state of the art wrestling facility that, once the fundraising is complete, should break ground in 2017.
In the future recruits from Ohio, the US and perhaps all over the world will arrive on campus with an awareness of Logan Stieber. While that awareness may decrease over time, like the wrestling room banner of Logan pointing to his family after winning an NCAA title, his legacy and legend will hang over and continue to inspire a program that may well tower over the roots he has provided it.
Chic Harley was further memorialized by James Thurber, perhaps the greatest humorist since Mark Twain. Thurber was a classmate of Harley's at Ohio State and East High School. Forgive me as I borrow from Thurber's great poem comparing past Buckeye football accomplishments to Harley's:
But admit there'd be no break from then until today
If not for Logan Stieber when he lifted all to stay