Northwestern's Matt Storniolo has hosted a number of camps at Legacy High School over the years, and he knew he came across a special wrestler in 2014 -- even as the Wildcats' coach continued to take him down to the mat.
Over and over again.
That wrestler, Ryan Deakin, was coming off the first of two Class 5A state titles he'd earn at Legacy while setting program records for wins, pins and winning percentage. And even though Deakin's frame still hadn't filled out as a 113-pound junior-to-be, Storniolo recognized the edge the young competitor possessed.
"There was this skinny little kid with a smile on his face who kept asking me to wrestle, even though I outweighed him by 30, 40 pounds," Storniolo recalled. "With the weight advantage and the experience I was able to kick his butt pretty good, but he kept coming back for more. And even though we knew he was talented from the state title he had won that year, it was that attitude that set him apart."
After a redshirt year at Northwestern in 2017 in which Deakin wrestled unattached, the 21-year-old made plenty of noise in his first season of eligibility last winter, wrestling at 149 pounds and leading the team with 32 wins and nine falls.
His coming-out campaign was somewhat derailed by an injury at the Big 10 championships, where Deakin earned a spot in the semifinals but had to medically forfeit his final two matches. Not fully healthy, he went on to win a couple matches at the NCAA tournament, but didn't place.
"I don't think last year's NCAA results represent just how good of a season Ryan had," Storniolo said. "And that sixth-place finish at Big 10's was caused by an injury he suffered during the tournament, where as a staff we decided that it wasn't in his best interest medically to continue through the tournament."
Ranked No. 3 in Division I at 157 pounds by InterMat this season, Deakin (16-1) won the Midlands Championship on Dec. 30 and his lone loss came in a 6-3 decision to Nebraska's Tyler Berger, who's also highly ranked.
Thus, the expectation around Chicagoland is that the 2017 Junior World silver medalist is in prime position to earn titles come time for the Big 10 (March 9-10 in Minneapolis) and NCAA (March 21-23 in Pittsburgh) tournaments.
"This year, the expectation is to be on the top of the podium -- to win Big 10's and to win NCAA's," Storniolo said. "He's got to go through a couple tough opponents to get that done, but he's game for that and it's within reason for him to do it. At a minimum, the goal for Ryan is to be a very high All-American.
"But even that ... I think that would be selling him short if we said that was the goal. The goal for this kid is to win a national title."
Deakin noted the experiences of wrestling deep into the CHSAA state tournament all four years in high school -- and the lessons learned from coming up short his freshman year (third at 106) and junior year (runner-up at 126 to an eventual four-time champion) -- molded him for explosive growth at Northwestern.
"It was good in high school to be able to feel the big wins and the big losses, and still be able to move forward and not get caught up in everything," Deakin said. "And it was a lucky wrestling up-bringing at Legacy and within that community. It showed me how to focus on the process."
That focus has intensified at Northwestern, where his roommate and 125-pounder Sebastian Rivera said he has seen how Deakin continues to reinvent his offensive aggression in manners which are difficult to predict, much less stop.
"He's able to get to his attacks whenever he wants to, and that comes with his increased strength and wrestling I.Q. over the past couple seasons," Rivera said. "Whenever he gets that lefty single (leg move), he's going to pull it in and he's going to finish."
This article is written by Kyle Newman from Denver Post and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.