Ohio State wrestler Kyle Snyder looks to make history
Kyle Snyder’s wrestling career was transformed by a dream.
Three years ago, Snyder already was a world-class wrestler. But in the 2015 NCAA finals as an Ohio State freshman, he lost. He got pinned, in fact.
A couple days later, he had that fateful dream.
“In my dream, I was done wrestling and I was looking back at my career and I realized I had never wrestled to my full potential,” Snyder said. “I was always holding something back. (This was) in my dream. And I was really mad at myself.”
Dreams are often fuzzy, especially in recall. But Snyder awoke with total clarity. He had dreamed the truth. From then on, Snyder vowed he would strive in every match to wrestle to his fullest. He would be unafraid to lose. His future matches, he decided, would be more about his own effort than about his opponent’s.
Three months later, his mindset fixed, he won the first of his two world championships. A year later, at age 20, he won the gold medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics, becoming the youngest American wrestler to do so.
This weekend, Snyder will finish his Ohio State career at the NCAA championships in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. If he wins, it will be his third NCAA title.
“I think he’s the greatest college wrestler of all time,” Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said.
But that may not be what impresses Ryan the most about Snyder.
IT'S IN THE GENES
The whiteboard in the Snyder family garage in Woodbine, Maryland, reveals a lot.
What have you done today to get better? it reads at the top. Do work when everyone else wants to rest is written below that. Adversity causes some to break, others to break records is to the left.
Kyle Snyder’s father, Steve, is a criminal investigator in the Department of Homeland Security’s Baltimore office, primarily dealing with crimes involving the international border. His mother, Tricia, is a marketing manager and fitness instructor.
Steve was a three-sport athlete in the Baltimore suburb of Columbia, Maryland, and played college football at Towson University. Tricia is one of 11 children from an athletic family.
“That’s pretty much all I knew growing up — competing,” Steve Snyder said. “I did it all the way through college. That’s the way we raised our kids. From the time they could catch a ball, it was always like, ‘OK, can you catch five in a row, 10 in a row, 20 in a row?’ ”
Kyle, 22, is the second of the Snyders’ four children. Stephen Jr. is a West Point graduate who’s Ranger-qualified. Kevin is a redshirt freshman wrestler at Ohio State. Megan, a junior in high school, is a soccer standout.
“When I think of Kyle, without question what I think of is a really strong family unit,” Ryan said. “This doesn’t just begin overnight. This was something ingrained in him from a very young age. I told his dad that he should write a book on how to raise Olympic champions in life.”
Kyle was a star athlete from the start. Steve coached Stephen in youth baseball and put Kyle on the team even though he was three years younger than his brother. Kyle became one of the team’s best players.
He also wrestled, but it was in football that he really excelled. If Snyder had kept growing instead of peaking at 5 feet 11 as an eighth-grader, he probably would have been a football player, not a wrestler.
“If Kyle were 3 inches taller, nobody would be talking about him as a wrestler,” Steve Snyder said. “He’d be in the NFL. He had the best instincts of any defensive linemen I’d ever seen.”
By the time Kyle was a sophomore at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, he realized wrestling was his future. He gave up football and devoted himself to the mat.
“I started really liking wrestling in seventh and eighth grade,” Snyder said. “I liked how challenging it was and I’ve always embraced hard work.”
He went undefeated in three years at Good Counsel and accepted an invitation to spend his senior year at the USA Olympic facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Snyder committed to Ohio State on New Year’s Day in 2013. He called Ryan at 9 a.m.
“We were in a dogfight to get him with a bunch of other schools,” Ryan recalled. “He said, ‘I want to start your new year off right. I want you to know that I’m going to be a part of your program.’ ”
Ryan had built a relationship with Snyder, but he knows that wasn’t the only reason he chose Ohio State. Snyder’s aspirations went beyond NCAA titles, and the Regional Training Center in Columbus could provide him the facility and world-class competition he wanted.
“The RTC was the biggest factor,” Ryan said. “He knew suffering was needed. He knew he needed to get beat in practice and not too many places could provide that, but (the RTC) could.”
STICKING TO THE PLAN
Ryan knew he was getting a special wrestler. He didn’t know — who could have? — all that Snyder would achieve during his college years.
How has he done it? It starts, of course, with ability. Snyder has quick feet, good balance and is, in Ryan’s words, “ungodly strong.” Ryan estimates that he can lift 650-675 pounds in the dead lift, bench-press about 400 pounds and squat at least 600.
But when pressed about Snyder’s talent, Ryan replied, “Talented enough. There are people more talented.”
What separates Snyder is what’s between his ears, particularly his relentless work ethic, innate self-confidence and apparent imperviousness to pain. He plans his training toward peaking for the world championships. That means that each day is part of a plan from which he does not deviate.
Asked if he has days when he simply doesn’t feel like training, Snyder is emphatic.
“No. Never. Ever,” he said. “I’ve had it in my life, but I haven’t had it in probably 3½ years. I love wrestling and I love training. If someone told me I couldn’t wrestle today, I would lift. If someone told me I couldn’t lift, I would condition.
“Even when I’m taking weeks off, I’m working out pretty much every day. Wrestling is my favorite way to work out, so that’s why I do it.”
Even within workouts, Snyder is remarkably focused.
“Every single time,” Ryan said. “Every single rep. Every single practice. His thoughts before practice. His mental preparation before practic e. His physical preparation after practice for the next one.”
That preparation fortifies his confidence in tough matches. Ryan is amazed at the number of times Snyder has come from behind when the odds were against him.
“I’ve always believed in myself,” Snyder said. “I have since I was a kid. Even if I lost to somebody, whether (in) practice or competition, I thought the next time we wrestled, I’d beat him or it it’d be closer and closer and closer and then eventually I’d make the gap so small that I’d pass him.”
His mental strength extends to his pain tolerance. Probably more than any sport, wrestling requires the ability to embrace pain. Those who can’t make it their friend don’t last long.
But Snyder’s pain threshold is almost beyond comprehension. At last year’s NCAA championships, he tore cartilage in his chest during his second-round match.
“It’s a ribcage issue,” Ryan explained. “Every time you breathe, you’re expanding. The pain is in an area where when your ribcage expands, so you’re going to feel it. Wrestling is a lot about torque and your core. From your hip to under your pec, that’s where a lot of wrestling matches are won.
“It’s not an uncommon injury, but it’s painful, maybe the most painful.”
Snyder didn’t get a Novocain shot before his quarterfinal match and admitted that the pain was excruciating. After the match, Ryan told him that the wise thing would be to not continue in the NCAAs to ensure his health for the world championships. Snyder’s response: Not a chance.
He got a painkilling shot, which at least took the edge off the pain in his semifinal and finals victories, but he paid the price afterward.
“He was in a lot of pain,” Ryan said. “It was not a one- or two-day thing.”
To watch Snyder wrestler is to view a beast stalking prey. He wrestles internationally at 213 pounds, which puts him at a disadvantage as a heavyweight in college, where the maximum weight is 285 pounds.
“He’s outweighed in every match,” Ryan said.
It seldom matters because of his strength and conditioning. Late in matches, when others get sloppy from fatigue, he maintains his stamina and his fundamentals.
Snyder is almost always the aggressor, but that wasn’t always the case. That’s where that fateful dream came in.
“I’m a way different wrestler than I was my freshman year,” Snyder said. “Mentally, a lot has changed. I put it on the line way more than I used to. I don’t really hold anything back in most of my matches and my effort is usually really good, whereas my freshman year I probably held on at times to secure victories.”
Snyder credits much of his evolution to Tervel Dlagnev, an OSU assistant coach and RTC training partner.
“Tervel is the guy who pioneered that way of thinking in my mind,” Snyder said. “We had tons of talks about it. It was difficult for me to really let loose.”
That attitude has given him the peace of mind to cope with his rare losses. Since being pinned by Kyven Gadson of Iowa State in the 197-pound NCAA final in 2015, Snyder didn’t lose another collegiate match until Michigan’s Adam Coon defeated him in a dual match last month. He said he got over the disappointment within 20 minutes of showering.
“It wasn’t that big a deal,” Snyder said. “I always tell people there shouldn’t really be a difference between your emotions when you win or lose because it’s based on your effort, not the result. My effort was good, I thought, in that match. He wrestled well, and I just needed to fix some things technically that he exploited and they game-planned for.”
In the Big Ten championships two weeks ago, Snyder defeated Coon, who outweighs him by about 60 pounds. They are seeded to meet again in the finals of the NCAA tournament.
A MAN OF FAITH
As much as Ryan marvels at Snyder’s wrestling accomplishments, he has more appreciation for the way Snyder lives his life.
“Kyle is a principled man,” Ryan said. “He lives with a reverence for God. He is intentional and deliberate in his thought life and what he pursues.”
Snyder said his religious faith has deepened during college. “I believe in Jesus,” he said. “I believe that he is the perfect example and there’s no greater person to follow.”
Ryan said that Snyder views life without cynicism.
“I think he sees the world through rose-colored glasses,” he said.
It’s not that he’s gullible, Ryan said. Snyder is quite intelligent. Despite his travel and wrestling commitments, he has a 3.75 grade-point average and is on track to graduate this summer with a degree in sports industry.
It’s just that there’s no pretense with Snyder. He is genuinely humble. He thanks reporters after interviews. Ryan said that after the 2016 NCAA championships at Madison Square Garden, the worker responsible for filling wrestlers’ water jugs told him that Snyder was the only athlete who repeatedly thanked him. Not once, Ryan said, has Snyder played the I’m-an-Olympic-champion card.
He simply doesn’t deviate from the straight and narrow.
“We all choose discipline or temptation,” Ryan said. “You have to choose which side you’re on. He continuously chooses discipline.”
Yet Snyder is also remarkably candid. If he believes an opponent is inferior, he’ll say so.
“I don’t ever try to be disrespectful in the way I say things,” he said, “but if you ask me about someone I feel like I’m going to tech-fall, I’ll tell you that I think I’m going to tech-fall him and I’m not going to worry about it.”
Snyder’s goal is to win four more Olympic golds and to be a 10-time world champion. Beyond that, he said he doesn’t know what he wants to pursue.
“I think he can be the president of the United States one day,” Ryan said.
Snyder has teased about branching out from wrestling into mixed-martial arts or doing guest appearances in World Wrestling Entertainment shows.
“I would never be a full-time guy, but I’d come in off the ropes,” Snyder said with a smile.
There’s no question about which role he’d play — hero or villain.
“I’d be the hero,” he said. “I’ve always played the hero.”
THE FINAL MATCH
For six minutes and 35 seconds of their NCAA heavyweight finals Saturday at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, Kyle Snyder and Adam Coon mostly pressed against each other like two bears locked in careful combat.
Except one of the bears outweighed the other by 60 pounds.
Snyder, who wrestles internationally at 213 pounds, is used to being much lighter than his opponents. Usually, his ridiculous strength, conditioning, will and quickness make that irrelevant.
But Coon is different. The Michigan senior major has the skill and strength to make the Ohio State wrestler’s final match anything but a formality. After all, Coon had handed Snyder his first collegiate loss in three years before the Buckeye won in double overtime at the Big Ten championships.
Until 25 seconds remained Saturday, their final match looked destined to go to overtime as well. Then Coon made a fateful move. He went for a takedown. But Snyder countered, using Coon’s movement against him to put him on the mat. In the blink of an eye, Snyder had the only takedown he would need.
The final seconds ticked off a 3-2 victory, and Snyder wagged his index finger, raised his fist and then threw his headgear toward the roaring crowd.
“I was surprised that he shot at that point,” Snyder said. “I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting me to go underneath of him, and I was about to try to set a couple of things up because I knew there was only 30 seconds left.
“But he took the shot when I had my underhook and kind of extended himself. So I was able to throw him by and there wasn’t much time after that.”
It was Snyder’s third straight NCAA title, to go along with his 2016 Olympic gold medal and two world championships. He is 22 years old.
“I’ve been in this sport for 38 years,” Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said. “He’s the greatest college wrestler I’ve ever seen. Many say he’s the greatest of all time. No American has ever left college with three national championships, an Olympic gold medal and two world championships.
“People got to witness one of the greats of all time. The challenge of a 220-pound man trying to move a 280-pound man is significant. He just finds a way to win every single time.”
After the match, Coon sat against the wall of a hallway, disconsolate. A coach stood silently next to him.
“He’s a very good wrestler,” Snyder said. “He’s had a great career. And he’s a really good guy. So he’s going to have a really bright future in a lot of different fields, whatever he chooses.”
Coon is an aerospace engineer major, so wrestling is not his only option.
As for Snyder, he is eager to compete internationally full-time. No longer will he be a heavyweight and have to face a major weight disadvantage.
“It’s great,” Snyder said. “I’m excited to just continue my international career at 213. That’s where I feel really comfortable competing at. And there’s not much strategy involved at that weight class — just going out there and wrestling, trying to score as many points as I can. So I’m glad heavyweight’s done.”
Snyder recently bought a home in Upper Arlington so he will continue to use central Ohio as his base. As he prepares for the next chapter of his life, he cherishes the memories he made as a Buckeye — for himself and for others.
“I’ll look back at my career at Ohio State and just be thankful for not what I was able to achieve,” he said, “but all the moments and camaraderie and experience I’ve had with my teammates and coaches and my improvement as a wrestler and as a man and my faith especially. All that’s grown so much. So that’s what I look back on.”