Unlock this article, live events, and more with a subscription!
Already a subscriber? Log In
Ohio is one of a handful of states that continually turns out Division I-quality wrestling prospects. Over the past 20 years, only Pennsylvania and New Jersey have produced more NCAA champions than the Buckeye State.
Three big-time prospects on this year’s Who’s Number One card hail from the state once known as the “Heart of it All,” including Ohio State University commits Paddy Gallagher and Seth Shumate, as well as Victor Voinovich, heading to “the other OSU” to wrestle for the legendary John Smith in Stillwater.
Gallagher is the linchpin of Ohio State’s 2021 class as one of the top prospects in the class and one of the best Ohio high school wrestlers in the sport at any weight; in fact, he was named Ohio's 2020 Most Outstanding Wrestler. 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.
Shumate, like Gallagher, didn’t need a lengthy recruitment to know he wanted to be a Buckeye, announcing his pledge to wrestle for the Tom Ryan 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.
Keeping native talent home is the bedrock of Ohio State’s recruiting strategy, as evidenced by earning Gallagher and Shumate’s commitments early in the cycle. Five of Tom Ryan’s starters last season call Ohio home, and four of the five qualified for the pandemic-preempted NCAA Wrestling Championships.
Even with some of the country’s best wrestlers in his back yard, Ryan and his staff have done an extremely good job of bringing the nation’s best to Columbus. From East Coast superstars like Kyle Snyder and Myles Martin to enticing then-Stanford standout Joey McKenna to leave Palo Alto, the Buckeye recruiting map is truly nationwide.
With that in mind, several WNO entrants are on Ohio State’s radar as prospects the staff would like to see join Gallagher and Shumate as future Buckeyes.
There are a goodly number of big-time talents in the pipeline at the middle and upperweights; the biggest area of need for the program is at the lighter end of the roster. Earlier this offseason Ohio State’s lightweight situation was described as “Threat Level Midnight,” in fact.
With Malik Heinselman on the tail-end of his career at 125 and a jumble of guys at 125 and 133 who haven’t quite established themselves as potential All-Americans, OSU needs to add at least one big-time recruit in its next class or two.
From the Class of 2021, Richie Figueroa and Shayne Van Ness are both WNO combatants the Buckeyes are watching. Figueroa would very much solve a problem at 125, and Van Ness could potentially fit in a couple of different lineup combinations.
Class of 2022 recruits on the WNO card the Buckeyes are pursuing include Nic Bouzakis and Ryan Crookham, making their match at 132 pounds doubly intriguing for backers of the Scarlet and Gray.
Like every other wrestler in this event, Bouzakis and Crookham have no shortage of suitors vying for their services . . . Ohio State, though, presents not only one of the best staffs and facilities in the sport, but also one of the clearest paths to a starting spot for a lightweight. Jesse Mendez in the 138-pound four-man bracket is another name Ohio State has circled on October 3, as the two-time Indiana high school champ fits right in the Buckeye prototype as a folkstyle standout with serious freestyle potential.
While the theme of Ohio State’s recruiting priorities right now is laser-focused at 125 and 133, there are a couple of upperweights in the mix as well. Among WNO competitors is Nick Feldman, a big man the Buckeyes very much have an interest in recruiting.
There are plenty of options at heavyweight on the roster now, but in two seasons when guys like Chase Singletary, Gas Tank Gary Traub, and Tate Orndorff have exhausted their eligibility, a guy like Feldman would be a logical successor. With Seth Shumate wrestling at 195 October 3 and Feldman at 220, Buckeye fans can imagine a future where they’re seeing a one-two punch at 197 and 285.
Who’s #1 is always one of the best cards of the year. For Ohio State fans, seeing two Buckeye commits and a slew of the team’s priority prospects this year is just an added bonus.
Andy Vance is a Columbus-based journalist who covers the Ohio State University wrestling program for Eleven Warriors, the largest independent sports site on the internet for Ohio State news, analysis, and community. He is co-host of the site’s Eleven Dubcast podcast. Follow him on Twitter @AndyVance.