Tom and Terry Brands probably had flashbacks sitting and watching a pair of Ohio State brothers take down two of Iowa’s top dogs in Columbus on Jan. 20. The Brands brothers, now the brain-trust of Iowa’s elite wrestling program, combined to win five NCAA indvidual titles, reaching the top of the medal stand twice in the same season (1990 and 1992).
What lies ahead for Logan and Hunter Stieber nobody knows. But the siblings — Hunter a first-year student-athlete, Logan a redshirt-freshman — will certainly enter the 2012 Division I Wrestling Championships with 1992 in mind.
“The similarities are striking,” said Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan, a college teammate of the Brands brothers. “The absoluteness of what they are doing, how they attack everything in the same way, they are very similar [to the Brands brothers].”
From Monroeville, Ohio, the Stiebers had plenty of credentials before ever putting on an Ohio State singlet.
By wrestling standards, the state of Ohio is among the toughest. All the Stieber did was combine to win eight titles — four each. Logan added a silver medal in freestyle at the 2011 FILA Junior World Championships in Romania during the summer of 2011.
The 2010-11 campaign ended early for older brother Logan, who wrestled eight matches before an injury sent him to the sideline. This season, it’s been smooth sailing. He is 19-1 with victories against top-ranked Devin Carter of Virginia Tech and Iowa’s Tony Ramos, who was coming off a victory against 2011 champion Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State on Jan. 7.
Hunter has raced to an 18-3 mark with wins against 2011 champion Kellen Russell of Michigan and Iowa’s two-time All-American Montell Marion.
“I think [Hunter] feeds off me now. It used to be the opposite in high school and junior high because I was at the higher weight,” Logan said. “We’ve been blessed with good coaches and that has made a big difference. We took our lumps early, but we’ve stayed with it.”
“[Logan] really pumped me up after he beat Ramos,” Hunter said. “We’ve always had some competition against each other, but nothing too serious. We both want to win and have fed off each other at times. We’ve been on some really good teams, been part of some big matches.”
The Stieber are part of a lineup that starts as many as seven freshmen, including football transplant Andrew Campolattano, a four-time state champion from New Jersey who started his collegiate career at Rutgers on the football roster. Also from Monroeville, 149-pounder Cam Tessari was a four-time Ohio state champion, and Derek Garcia a four-time state champion from Washington.
It’s safe to say the brothers have played a leading role in the Buckeyes’ rise to the top of the rankings in late January. On Jan. 24, Ohio State handed Iowa its first Big Ten loss in five seasons. On Sunday, the fifth-ranked Buckeyes will face 2011 team champion Penn State, currently ranked second behind Oklahoma State.
“I’ve been on some great teams, but the [Iowa dual] was by far the most fun I’ve had,” Logan said. “It’s an individual sport but everybody really pulled together. It was a big win but, even if we would have lost, I think we would still be working as hard as we have been.”
After a dismal year in Columbus — the Buckeyes finished 29th at last March’s NCAA Championships — the decision was easy for Ryan to send out this young group.
“All the freshmen came in for summer school,” Hunter said. “And after getting here and starting to train, we all wanted to wrestle. Some of the OTC [Olympic Training Center] guys talked about us winning it this year. It’s a lot different. The schedule is a lot tougher, especially facing Big Ten guys every week.
“School is different, too, but my brother really helped me get prepared. I’m doing okay so far, over a 3.0 [grade-point average] right now.”
“There was certainly an assessment period as far as redshirting,” said Ryan, a two-time All-American during his days of competition. “We weren’t 100-percent sure about Hunter going this year but after watching him compete, the decision was made.
“I’d say they are ahead of schedule. Coming in in June obviously helped, getting them acclimated. And we had a group of them, so they’ve been able to help each other get situated.”
J Jaggers, a two-time NCAA champion for the Buckeyes and current member of the staff, isn’t completely surprised by the early success.
“I don’t know if surprised is the word,” Jaggers said. “These guys already had a way of doing things before they got here. It goes back to guys like Erik Burton, some of their club coaches, that really helped develop them.
“And now it’s like they want to out-do each other. When Logan [won against Iowa] that made Hunter want to do the same. Then Cam [Tessari] didn’t want to be the one from Monroeville to lose. It creates this momentum in a dual meet that can be hard to stop.”
Stieber and Tessari were not the only Monroeville wrestlers to finish their careers last March with four state titles. Chris Phillips, who signed to wrestle at North Carolina State, also claimed his fourth.
Penn State won the 2011 NCAA title with three freshmen in the starting lineup, including Ohio product David Taylor.
“Last year I don’t think a lot of the guys expected to win,” Logan said. “This year we have kind of taken on the attitude of ‘Who cares if we are freshmen?’ Everybody knows what Penn State did last year and we have some freshmen who are pretty good too.
“Win now because you never know what can happen in the future.”
Ryan admits that 2010-11 was his hardest in 18 years of coaching. Colt Sponseller, who has graduated, was the school’s only All-American. In 2008 and 2009, Ohio State finished second in the NCAA team race behind Iowa.
“You evaluate everything all the way down to the gear you are wearing in practice,” Ryan said. “We have a very exciting group right now. What type of legacy they leave remains to be seen.”
The legacy of the Stiebers is just getting started. Are they set to join legendary surnames such as Peery, Keller, Banach, Brands, Schultz and Smith?
“We’ve never really talked about it,” Logan said. “To be an All-American is special, but to be a national champion is the ultimate goal. I know we both want that national title. I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t win and he will be disappointed if I don’t win.”
“We are having good seasons this year and, of course, the ultimate goal is be a national champion,” Hunter said. “And we have three more years after this year.”
Oh, the possibilities.