To an outsider, it appears to be a head scratcher.
Monroeville graduate Hunter Stieber finished with a sterling 36-1 record in the 2012-13 season for the Ohio State University wrestling team. He was third at the 141-pound weight class, with his lone loss by a single point in the closing seconds of an NCAA tournament semifinal.
But the two-time All-American – despite being completely healthy – will not wrestle for the Buckeyes in the upcoming 2013-14 season, and will be taking a redshirt year.
It’s a strategic move, and all part of Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan’s master plan.
“There are so many variables that go into it. One of them is simply what’s best for the student athlete and what’s best for the program,” Ryan said. “We feel right now that both of those answers get accomplished by redshirting Hunter.”
The move is partly explained by elder brother Logan Stieber moving up from 133 to 141, while fifth-year senior Ian Paddock, a two-time NCAA qualifier, is in his natural weight class at 149 in his final season of eligibility after missing last season.
But Ryan stressed a much bigger picture in making the decision.
“From a program standpoint, having him two years from now, rather than graduating next year, can bode well in us winning an NCAA championship,” Ryan said. “And as he moves from 141 to 149, Hunter is a cat-like wrestler, he’s quick. But we need to get his strength up to that level. Overall, we feel it’s best for him and the program.”
Ryan said Hunter Stieber has embraced the move, and the veteran coach likes where his head is at with the decision.
“The critic factor is the communication with the student athlete,” Ryan said. “This is something he wants as well. There is a lot of communication between the staff and the family, and we all unanimously feel this is best. And not that he is in Logan’s shadow at all, but Logan will graduate next year, so Hunter will have time to blossom as the team’s leader.
“Not that he’s not now, but this will be good for his overall growth as well, to have that year as the leader of our room,” Ryan added. “Hunter is an amazing follower. He knows how to choose the right people to follow. That is a gift. Fortunately, that person he follows is his older brother.”
Also part of Ryan’s plan is to redshirt star-studded freshmen Nathan Tomasello and Bo Jordan. Both wrestlers joined the Stieber brothers in March as four-time Ohio High School state champions at Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy and St. Paris Graham, respectively.
According to Division I College Wrestling’s website, Jordan was the No. 1-ranked recruit in the country for the class of 2013, while Tomasello was 10th.
But like Hunter Stieber, neither will see the mat this season.
“At 125, Nathan is sitting because we have a three-time Pennsylvania state champion in Nick Roberts,” Ryan said. “He’s made two world teams, he’s very competitive there. They’ll wrestle off, but we really feel we have the foundation to start hanging some banners in the years to come.
“I don’t want to come off negative, but this year, that will be very difficult for us,” Ryan added. “You can see and get a sense for the landscape and reality of what we’re up against. As good as we’ll be, I’m not sure we have enough men to win the NCAA title. That doesn’t mean we can’t or that we won’t do everything we can to develop our people, but the smartest thing right now for Nathan is to not wrestle him. I will say he’s already had an impact on the program because of his work ethic, and we’re just getting going.”
As for sitting Bo Jordan, Ryan again stressed the big picture.
“In the recruiting process, we felt strongly if he could make 157, we wrestle him,” he said. “His desire is to win four NCAA titles. In training with him, and seeing the level someone needs to be at to truly be a champ, he has that as a freshman. But at 165, with David Taylor (Penn State) there, let’s redshirt him, and the following year, bring him out with four years left.
“So if Bo wrestles and we’re third, what situation would we be in then if he had that year? It was both long and short term. We’ve been fifth, sixth and eighth at the NCAAs. For Buckeye nation, first is the standard. We want to put ourselves in the best position to do that.”
Ryan also added perhaps the biggest reason to build around 2015 is what the program owes the eldest Stieber, who will be in his final season at Ohio State.
“You can’t value what he’s meant to us. Priceless. He’s been the glue through some challenges,” Ryan said of Logan Stieber. “Coming here, we thought we’d have a few banners already at OSU. It’s a great wrestling state, a great institution. He’s been the glue. We were so close to winning it five years ago. We had it won going into last day. But it just wasn’t our time.
“Next year (2014-15), we’ll have enough people in the room to win it,” Ryan added. “There is nothing more frustrating to a fan then hearing ‘next year.’ I get that. But it is what it is. I think the cool thing about all of this is, it will be Logan’s senior year. And God willing, he’ll be going for his fourth Big Ten and NCAA title. The Big Ten championships will be hosted here in Columbus. He led his Monroeville team to their first-ever state title, and I believe the Buckeyes will win one in next few years, and he’ll be a catalyst to it.”