Unaware – or simply not caring – that a camera was fixed on him, the Ohio State head coach, for lack of a better term, freaked out as Stieber beat Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver for the crown.
In the video that lasts less than a minute, Ryan screams. He takes a few steps forward. He gets into a deep crouch. He maneuvers around and sometimes puts his hands on the shoulders of an arena worker watching the match on the same backstage television. He runs backward, his suit coat flapping in the breeze, as Stieber fends off a late attack by Oliver. He hops on his feet like a kid with a new pogo stick. And finally, when victory is assured, Ryan dodges a security guard, runs by the curtain and races toward the mat.
Because, at that very moment, Ryan knew that he was watching the beginning of history.
“I was going bonkers,” Ryan says now. “But I was out of my mind because, like a dad, you watch a situation and you know how that situation can affect your child five, 10, 15 years down the road. I’m watching that match thinking, ‘If we’re going to get in the position to get four, you have to get one.’ ”
And now, Stieber is on the precipice of becoming just the fourth college wrestler to capture the maximum four national titles, as the NCAA meet begins Thursday in St. Louis. Already, he is the first Buckeye and just the 28th grappler of all time to have three national championships, and he is also the first OSU athlete to ever win four Big Ten titles.
The dream that Ryan knew was possible at the very beginning is now firmly on the table. The No. 1 seed at 141 pounds, Stieber can put himself down as one of the best ever to put on a singlet and join Cornell’s Kyle Dake (2010-13), Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson (1999-2002) and Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith (1990-92, ’94) as four-time champions.
But even with history looming, Stieber -- whose brother Hunter is also wrestling at 149 pounds -- said before the tournament season that the pressure won't get to him because, well, there is none.
"I just try to stay relaxed," Stieber said. "I'm not even thinking about the wrestling, I'm just thinking about getting better at what I can get better at. I'm just taking everything one day at a time."
At this point, there’s little doubt that Stieber can be considered one of the all-time greats in college wrestling.
Finding someone to heap praise on the Monroeville, Ohio, native isn’t a hard task, especially in the Ohio State wrestling room, where many of the best lighter weights in the country convene on a regular basis.
“He’s clearly one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Ryan said. “I’d put him down as good as any person that’s ever walked on a wrestling mat at the college level. He’s a complete wrestler. He’s the real deal.”
But what makes Stieber so good? His coaches say he’s not the strongest or fastest wrestler they’ve ever seen, but most of Stieber’s matches are exercises in futility for the opposition. He mows through foes with precision – he hasn't lost in more than a year, and he ruled the NCAA Most Dominant Wrestler standings this year by averaging 5.0 points per win, the equivalent of a technical fall in every match.
J Jaggers is an assistant coach at Ohio State who won two national titles of his own at 141 pounds. He is one of the members of the staff tasked with working most with Stieber, and he’s able to explain how the OSU’s star is able to stand out from the pack.
“You can watch and he’s got a little bit of a baby face,” Jaggers said. “His body, it’s not ripped everywhere. He looks a lot different than (freshman) Bo Jordan. You can look at Bo Jordan and think, ‘Wow.’ He takes his shirt off and you’re just in awe. Speed wise, (Logan’s) not crazy fast. But when you feel Logan, that dart low double that he does and the way he pulls you, he’s just relentless. That’s the best way to describe Logan.
“His greatness, I think you have to feel it. The way he beats some guys, the way he’ll beat the guy that’s fourth in the country – unmercifully – 19-2, it’s like, ‘How does that happen?’ But when you feel him, when he gets your wrist, you start to understand.”
Stieber makes his dominance look so easy, so casual, that it belies just how difficult it is to win at the highest levels of college wrestling. A year ago, after winning his third title, Stieber marveled at how people were reacting to his increasing dominance.
“Right now, it just seems like, ‘Oh, I won again,’ ” he said. “Everyone seems to expect me to win, and that kind of sucks because they don’t understand how hard it is. They take it for granted, like, ‘Oh, you only beat the guy by seven points. What happened?’ It’s crazy.”
In fact, Stieber does make it look easy, partly because his greatness is provided by so many things that are hard to see. According to his head coach, he has a natural gift when it comes to wrestling to his strengths and staying away from the strengths of his opponents. Like a point guard who sees things a second before they happen, Stieber is able to anticipate when a move might work or when his opponent might try something, allowing him to have the right defense ready and then seamlessly shift into offense. He also has a natural feel for how to carry his body to avoid attacks from foes while putting himself in the right spot to strike.
Those qualities have prompted Ryan to describe Stieber as a ninja on the mat, even if the head coach has trouble putting words to exactly why that is.
“I guess it’s not easy to explain why a ninja is a ninja,” Ryan said. “They just are. Every movement, every decision, you have a split second, and one second late, it doesn’t work. A millisecond early, it doesn’t work.
“But with Logan, he does things so naturally that he makes it look easy. His timing is just incredible on everything. He’s always in the right place at the right time making the right decision at the right second, and it results in someone who is extremely difficult to beat.”
It also helps that Stieber has a borderline encyclopedic knowledge of the sport built up through nearly 20 years of competition and practices. When opponent Zain Retherford of Penn State tried to use a move on Stieber late in the NCAA semifinals a year ago, he seamlessly called up a defense taught to him by Olympic participant Tervel Dlagnev to keep the Nittany Lion at bay.
When it comes to situations like that, Jaggers just has to laugh, noting that Stieber already knows what he’s going to say when the assistant coach tries to give a pointer during a match.
“I’ve seen a lot,” Stieber said. “That’s one of the things that I tell myself sometimes in matches – I’ve won this way, I’ve won on riding time in overtime, I’ve won on rideouts in overtime, I got a reversal in OT in the all-star match, I won on my feet in OT last year. In different situations, it makes me feel confident.”
There are other intangibles that make Stieber so hard to beat. Just like Michael Phelps is suited for the pool because of his long arms and torso, Stieber seems to be genetically designed to be a wrestler. While Ryan joked that he wouldn’t pick his star wrestler first if he was playing a basketball game, he has the athletic ability and innate sense of space to excel on the mat.
“He’s tailor-made for this sport,” Ryan said. “He has long arms. He’s extremely quick, and I think his timing is impeccable. One of the things he really understands is spacing. He understands that if I stay this space from my opponent that I have the quickness to get to his legs and he does not have the quickness to get to mine. He really understands where he is in space.”
Stieber had little issue getting through the Big Ten tournament this year, posting two comprehensive wins before routing Iowa's Josh Dziewa in the final via a 16-1 technical fall with Urban Meyer standing matside that lasted just seven seconds into the second period; his postmatch interview was longer.
The win almost seemed like a formality -- something Stieber would surely argue -- but it was important. The team points helped Ohio State tie Iowa for a share of the Big Ten title for the first time in 64 years, and Stieber became just the 14th four-time champ in league history.
“I’d like to be remembered,” Stieber said after his win. “It’s pretty special to be in a category where no one else is.”
He hopes to again have the individual and team success at the NCAA meet. Ohio State has never won a team national title but with six wrestlers seeded among the top six, the Buckeyes are among the top title contenders along Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota after having twice finished runner-up in Ryan's tenure.
As for Stieber, he's 24-0 this year and hasn't lost to anyone in the field. Among the top seeds, he beat No. 2 Mitchell Port of Edinboro during the National Duals in February; he pinned No. 3 Lavion Mayes of Missouri during last year's NCAA meet; he won a major decision over No. 4 Devin Carter of Virginia Tech in last year's NCAA final; and Dziewa is slotted fifth in the bracket.
History seems to beckon. What will it take to finish it off? Stieber has the answer.
“Just focus,” he said. “One match at a time, can’t win it on Friday, can’t win it on Thursday. I’ll just stay focused on the main goal.”
Stieber Through The Years
2012 title over Oklahoma State's Jordan Oliver at 133
2013 title over Iowa's Tony Ramos at 133.
2012 title over second-seeded Edinboro's Mitchell Port in February.
Ohio State NCAA Seeds
125: No. 4 Nathan Tomasello
133: No. 4 Johnni DiJulius
141: No. 1 Logan Stieber
149: Unseeded Hunter Stieber
157: No. 6 Josh Demas
165: No. 5 Bo Jordan
174: No. 10 Mark Martin
184: Unseeded Kenny Courts
197: No. 4 Kyle Snyder
HWT: Unseeded Nick Tavanello