Yes, Logan Stieber spends most of his evenings during the wrestling season hanging out with a cat.
The feline named Winry isn’t quite as famous as the one owned by Faux Pelini, the Twitter alter ego of former Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini, but it does help illustrate what makes Stieber not just the best college wrestler in the country but one of the best of all time.
There is a view of wrestlers as energetic alpha males with big personalities, all the better to help them get through perhaps the toughest and most physically punishing sport in the world.
But for Logan and Hunter Stieber, the average evening is spent on the couch with a remote in hand. They are both social but are more dedicated to reaching the highest level in their sport thanks to a work ethic instilled in part by their father, Jeff, and supported by growing up in the tiny farming community of Monroeville, a 1,400-resident town in northern Ohio.
Logan enters his final postseason, which begins with the Big Ten tournament March 7-8 at Ohio State, with a chance to become just the fourth NCAA wrestler in history to win four national championships. Despite an injury-plagued season that would have shut down most wrestlers, Hunter, a junior, will attempt to join him on the podium after All-America finishes each of his first two campaigns at OSU.
They are not necessarily the most talented athletes but among the most dedicated to their craft in a sport that demands it more than any other.
“People say they are gifted or this or that, and I say bullcrap,” their father said. “They worked hard just like all those guys. People say they are great athletes, but they have had to work hard to achieve what they got. It’s not like they stepped on the mat and were ready to go.
“People ask me, ‘What’s the secret?’ and there is no secret. It’s hard work. That’s the bottom line.”
So when two workouts per day are done and classes have finished, you can find the two on the couch binge-watching seasons of “Family Guy” or “Spartacus,” Winry in tow.
“It’s not that difficult because I don’t have time to do anything else,” Logan said. “When wrestling season is over, I can enjoy myself and have fun, but right now there are things I would rather do. I want to be on my couch relaxing. It’s not that hard to miss that stuff.”
Growing Up Stieber
Jeff Stieber was a member of Monroeville’s 1984 state championship basketball team and stayed in the area. Inspired by a family friend, Logan began wrestling at 4 years old and Hunter soon followed, and the two credit much of their success to coach Erik Burnett. A four-time state champion from Oberlin, Burnett trains wrestlers in LaGrange, Ohio, about 40 minutes east of Monroeville.
The two showed aptitude early, and though they played other sports – including football, a sport in which Logan was a four-year letter winner at Monroeville High School – wrestling clearly became the meal ticket for the two.
“I think I was pretty good right away, and I was able to win so I liked it,” Logan said. “Probably in like seventh grade, I thought that I could wrestle in college and get a scholarship. I was winning national tournaments, like the highest at my age level. It’s kind of crazy.”
And whatever Logan did, Hunter seemed sure to follow. The two were always close and seldom fought, but they were rambunctious. The Stieber home had a wrestling mat first located in the basement and then in the garage where the two and their friends – a list including fellow Monroeville stars Chris Phillips and Cam Tessari – would practice.
Like most active young boys, they found ways to entertain themselves as well like playing wallball in the basement, shooting Airsoft guns or exploring the country. If the two were roughhousing and something broke in the house, Hunter was usually the one to fix it.
“I was a lot more handy than Logan was,” he said. “Logan would play ‘Madden’ and watch ‘SportsCenter’ and I’d play with Legos and build stuff. If I broke stuff, I’d be taping it underneath so my mom (Tina) didn’t figure out.”
Jeff admitted the two were a handful when they were younger and also said he could be a pain in the butt trying to keep the two in line. But he also made sure the two were serious about their sport as they grew up and the family spent weekends traveling to wrestling tournaments across the country, and the discipline that would come to mark the Stiebers soon blossomed.
“We would have to do workouts every morning where we’d have to jump rope like 100 times forward and 100 times backward,” Hunter said. “Our dad wasn’t around because he’d left for work early, so we’d be down there for like 20 minutes at least. We’d do 75, play wall ball, do a little bit more. But Logan made me do them all.”
As they got older, Logan’s efforts allowed him to show up on the radar of college coaches. One of those was Tom Ryan, who took over at Ohio State in 2006. A year later, Logan was a sophomore at Monroeville who already had a state championship under his belt when he first worked with his future coach at a camp.
“I was weighing like 175 and he was weighing about 110, so I had about 65 pounds and 20 years on him, and he double-legged me and ran me across the mat and threw me down, and I was trying,” Ryan said. “It wasn’t like I was trying to build a relationship with a recruit, let him throw me around.
“We sat against the wall after I said, ‘Logan, that was a really nice skill that you used,’ and he said to me, ‘Coach, that only works against old people.’ So at that point, I knew that not only was he a special athlete but he had this laid-back personality that he could turn it on and off.”
By the time Logan completed his prep career, he was a four-time state champion. A year later, he was joined by his brother, Phillips and Tessari.
“That’s a crazy thing that might never happen again for such a small town,” Hunter said. “At (Lakewood St. Edward) it could happen, having four people win four titles in a few years, but just having two brothers definitely helped. We were always getting more workouts than anyone else and we all pushed ourselves. We all had the same goal in mind – four titles. We didn’t want to be the guy that didn’t get it.”
The college choice was easy for the two brothers, as well. As native Ohioans who believed in Ryan’s vision to put the flagship school in one of the most wrestling-mad states in the nation in the national elite, the Stiebers decided to don scarlet and gray.
“Logan has always loved Ohio State,” Jeff said. “Hunter has always loved Ohio State, too. I just can’t imagine wrestling anywhere else. You’re from Ohio. You’re supposed to wrestle for Ohio State. That’s how we think.”
The two have been as advertised at Ohio State. Logan redshirted his freshman season after suffering a hand injury that ended his season after just eight matches, but he has lost just three matches since then on the way to winning the Big Ten championship and national title each of the past three years – first at 133 pounds and next at 141.
By winning the national championship in March, he would join Cornell’s Kyle Dake (2010-13), Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson (1999-2002) and Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith (1990-92, ’94) as the only college wrestlers ever to win four titles.
Hunter, meanwhile, has had similar success. He reached the semifinals of the NCAA tournament as a freshman at 141 pounds before finishing sixth, then placed third as a sophomore after suffering his only loss of the season in the semifinals as well. He redshirted a season ago and has battled injuries this season but should be in the lineup as the No. 5 Buckeyes chase the national title.
“When you recruited them you think that this could happen,” Ryan said. “When I watched (Logan) as a sophomore, did I think he’d win four? I knew he was great. I knew he was really special, but to think about all the obstacles that he’s overcome to get here and the fact that it’s now a reality and he’s primed to win his fourth, it’s pretty amazing.”
Over the years, the two have shown many similar characteristics to Ryan and their Buckeye teammates, but they aren’t the same people either. Hunter is more outwardly chatty, something he says he honed growing up in Monroeville where there aren’t a ton of entertainment options, while Logan seems to have more of a laser focus on the tasks at hand.
“They are drastically different in many ways, but the same in many ways,” Ryan said. “Hunter is ho-hummish but internally, this is important to him. He doesn’t wear it on his sleeve as much as Logan. Logan has no problem saying, ‘I want to go down as one of the best ever.’ He has tunnel vision. Logan controls more of the controllables than Hunter, but they are both equally special on the mat to watch.”
Along the way, Ryan has often marveled at the discipline the two have and their commitment to living clean lifestyles. While the two are plenty social, focusing on finishing strong at the end of the wrestling season trumps all.
“We want to be the best,” Hunter said. “We’re very social. During the offseason we love going out and hanging out with people, but we just know that right now, our energy is used in better ways.”
If the two end up succeeding in their quest to reach the top of the podium at the NCAA tournament, expect a celebration. In the meantime, two of the best wrestlers in the nation can be found on their couch, watching Netflix and hanging out with their cat.