"He has that -- I've been around a few people like him in my life in 20 years doing this," the Ohio State wrestling coach says. "Very few. Tom Brands was one, I thought Coach Gable was another. There's very few where it's just, when it matters the most, they're at their best and it's every single time. It's very rarely that they're not. They have an internal belief system that's incredible. Thank God he's wearing scarlet and gray, that's all I can say."
Ryan just wishes he knew how to bottle it heading into this weekend's NCAA wrestling championships, which run from today through Saturday night in Oklahoma City.
Having someone such as Stieber who can make magic in March is the dream of every wrestling coach, but to the 141-pounder – who hopes to become the first Buckeye ever to win three national titles – figuring out this time of year is simple.
"The coaches do a good job of preparing us and getting us to peak at the right time," the Monroeville, Ohio, native said. "It's the best time of year. It's fun. The weight is easy to make. It's the best time of year. The main thing about nationals is people get caught up in pinning people and stuff like that. Really, nationals is just one match at a time. You can't win anything on Thursday or Friday. One match at a time and go from there."
Sounds easy enough – and it has worked as Stieber won the crown at 133 pounds each of the past two years before moving up this year – but not everyone quite has that gift, as Ryan fully admits.
It might be key this weekend as Stieber has battled various illnesses and minor injuries throughout the season, which partly led to his December loss to Penn State freshman Zain Retherford in December. Stieber, of course, battled back from that and dominated the Nittany Lion – who will be seeded third at the NCAA meet – in the Big Ten championship match and is the No. 2 wrestler in the NCAA's most dominant standings this year.
That sets up a potential rubber match in the semifinals, with top-seeded Mitchell Port of Edinboro – who is 26-0 – highlighting the other side of the bracket.
Then there's Nick Heflin, the senior 197-pound Buckeye who enters the bracket as the No. 1 seed after a 5-3, SV2 win in the Big Ten title match vs. Penn State's Morgan McIntosh, the third seed.
The two-time All-American will take on a field that also includes second-ranked J'Den Cox of Missouri and No. 4 Scott Schiller of Minnesota – who Heflin has beaten twice this year – but he's ready to go as the No. 1 seed.
"In the end, you gotta beat everyone to win it," he said. "No matter who steps out on the mat, I have to be ready, period."
Heflin also called his first-ever Big Ten championship a mere qualifier win before the big meet, so he seems to be in the right state of mind. Using a more aggressive approach as his career at OSU nears an end, Heflin has the tools and the strength now to battle top 197-pounders after working at 174 in previous seasons.
"Right now, he's wrestling as well as anybody in the weight class," Ryan said. "He's been in a lot of big matches. This is his fourth time out there. He's placed twice already. He lost in double OT to the reigning champ at 174. He gets it. His competition out there for the most part are younger. I think his experience is going to be a factor."
"There's nothing more that I want in the wrestling realm as a coach than to see Nick Heflin win it there. The guy has been here five years. He's a great guy. He's a first-class person. I want to come home and I want that silhouette up there (on the wrestling room wall)."
Ohio State will also send six other wrestlers to Oklahoma City after placing fourth at Big Tens. Johnni DiJulius checks in as the ninth seed at 133 after taking sixth at the Big Ten meet, while Kenny Courts is seeded 10th at 184 after taking fifth in Madison. The other seeded Buckeye is Mark Martin, who is 14th at 174.
Also in the field are redshirt freshman Nick Roberts (125, sixth at Big Tens), senior Ian Paddock (149, seventh) and redshirt freshman Nick Tavanello (285, eighth).
"Plenty of other guys can get on the podium," Ryan said. "Nick Roberts wrestled really well (at Big Tens). He outwrestled everybody he wrestled, he just didn't win on points. He's wrestling really well. Johnni is capable of placing high. He didn't have a great weekend (at Big Tens), it's not the best he's wrestled, but he's capable of it. Ian is capable of it, Mark Martin is capable of it, Kenny Courts.
"But now you're out there and you're in a war and you need a takedown; are you going to get it? But we can have a great weekend out there. I just want them to compete with fire and have no regrets when they walk off the mat."