August 29, 2014

Elyria
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In the grip of Ohio State: Northeast Ohio becoming powerful recruiting pipeline for Buckeye wrestling program

St. Edward’s Lance Palmer signed on the dotted line first, then Walsh Jesuit’s Mike Pucilla put in his transfer papers from Hofstra.
Next came Black River’s Jesse Campbell, CVCA’s John Weakley and St. Edward’s Sean Nemec.
This year it will be Austintown Fitch’s Tony Jameson.
Now Northeast Ohio wrestlers aren’t even waiting for the signing period to tell Ohio State they want to be Buckeyes. Collin Palmer, Lance’s younger brother, gave his verbal commitment last week, and Logan Stieber, who will be just a junior for Monroeville next season, did the same a week earlier.
“I’ve always wanted to be a Buckeye so I just decided to commit early,” Stieber said. “I knew if I checked out other colleges it wouldn’t have changed my mind.”
It was just two years ago that Ohio State finished nearly last in the NCAA Tournament and longtime coach Russ Hellickson announced his retirement.
Hellickson had recruited Lance Palmer, and the surprising news nearly had the four-time state champion thinking about other schools.
“That left my scholarship open to every school and I had my doubts about wanting to stay,” said Palmer, who is from Columbia Station. “But I came to Ohio State because I wanted to help build a program into a national powerhouse.
“I’m glad I didn’t decide to leave because there are some big things happening now.”
The Buckeyes placed 10th in the nation during Palmer’s freshman season and rolled to a national runner-up finish last March. Palmer was an All-American both years, and Pucilla and Chanel standout J Jaggers both won national championships for Ohio State last season.
“The whole team gives 100 percent all the time,” said Campbell, who won the Division III state title as a senior at Black River. “It’s nice to see that we’re keeping talent from Ohio in Ohio. Most people believe that Ohio is one of the best wrestling states in the country and a lot of the top wrestlers are in Northeast Ohio.”
Tom Ryan, who took over the Buckeyes program from Hellickson, has enjoyed the pipeline from the region and has been credited for making Ohio State look so attractive to potential incoming talent.
“Ryan has done an awesome job of turning that program around,” said Collin Palmer, who is expected to match Lance’s four state titles this season at St. Edward. “He’s one of the big reasons I decided to go to Ohio State. The whole coaching staff is great there. It’s one of the things Lance brags about the most when he talks about the wrestling program. They work together as a family.”
That may be why the team’s enjoying so much success right now. The top wrestlers in Ohio State’s program grew up together and have the camaraderie of brothers. The Palmers and Pucilla all wrestled together for the Mini-Mustangs at the Strongsville YMCA when they were in grade school, and just about every wrestler on the Buckeyes roster has spent time training under Elyria High coach Erik Burnett at his All-American Wrestling Club in Grafton.
“All these guys are ending up at the same place and that’s really cool,” Burnett said. “Most people in this area are already Buckeye fans. They root for the football team and if they’re into wrestling they watch the Ohio State wrestling team.
“You want the wrestling program that represents the entire state to be a powerful one.”
Not only have many of the Ohio State wrestlers attended his camps — Stieber is training at the site currently — many have returned to help train others.
“Pucilla has helped with several camps,” Burnett said. “He was in just last weekend for a clinic we ran.”
Like Lance Palmer, Jaggers and Jameson, Burnett was a four-time high school state champion. Coming out of Oberlin High he had to make a decision where he’d wrestle in college. He chose Clarion University in Pennsylvania and said many factors have to be considered before settling on a school.
“Socially and athletically it has to be a good fit,” Burnett said. “Team chemistry is a big deal. What do the third-stringers feel about the program and are they as motivated about it as the starters? What is the alumni situation and will there be someone there to help you when your college career is over?
“I think the coaching staff at Ohio State has done a phenomenal job so far. They are taking that program to new places and they aren’t looking back.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com.