Olentangy Liberty High School freshman Jake Ryan began wrestling in the Hauppauge Youth Organization at the age of 7 in Long Island, N.Y., with his older brother, Jordan, and his younger brother, Teague. Their father, Tom Ryan, was the head wrestling coach at Hofstra, where he coached for 11 seasons.
Under the guidance of club coach Nick Mauriello and their father, the Ryan brothers fell in love with the sport, spending countless hours wrestling each other before and after practices and matches.
However, on Feb. 16, 2004, the Ryans' lives were changed forever, when Teague suddenly died at the age of 5.
"That was a tough time for our entire family," Lynette Ryan, Jake's mother, said. "We were all there, and we all watched Teague die in our own home. Jake had a hard time with it. He lost interest and stopped wrestling for about a year."
On that tragic evening, Teague was running around the house playing with his family, when he suddenly collapsed.
Tom desperately tried to revive his youngest son, while his wife, Lynette, called for an emergency squad, but Teague died before he could be rushed to the hospital.
Medical tests later revealed that Teague suffered a massive heart attack brought on by myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, which in Teague's case was caused by an infection of his heart muscle by a virus.
"Teague loved wrestling, and lived in the wrestling room and was always there near the bench for matches," Lynette said. "I think wrestling became bittersweet for Jake after that, because it was a constant reminder of his brother."
The loss of his younger brother changed Jake's outlook on life. He returned to wrestling with a vengeance as a fifth-grader, winning the New York state youth wrestling title at 70 pounds.
"(Teague's death) definitely changed everything for me, including my wrestling," Jake said. "I think of Teague, and of how much he loved wrestling, before my matches, and that just makes me want to work harder and be better."
Jake's interest in wrestling waned for a few years after his family moved to Powell in 2006. He became more interested in football and other activities.
But Jake said training with Liberty coach Mark Marinelli and his high school teammates has reinvigorated his passion for wrestling.
Despite being slowed by various illnesses and nagging injuries, Ryan has earned a 16-7 record at 119 pounds.
On Jan. 16, he placed seventh in the Marion Elgin Invitational.
"He doesn't have the ingredients needed to dominate at this level yet," Tom Ryan said. "From a physical standpoint, he's there. His body is very strong and he's athletic. But the emotional maturity needs to come, too. He's just now beginning to understand the work that you need to put into wrestling to be successful."
Nevertheless, Jake said he can't help but put pressure on himself every time he steps onto a wrestling mat, realizing that his father was a two-time NCAA Division I All-American at Iowa, as a member of the Hawkeyes' Big Ten and national championship teams in 1991 and '92.
"I definitely feel pressure, because people know who my dad is and they expect me to wrestle well and win because of it," Jake said. "My goal for this year is to make it to the state tournament. Before I graduate, I want to win one or more state titles."
When people learn that Tom Ryan is the head coach of the Ohio State University wrestling team, they often assume that Jake is constantly asking for and receiving instruction from his father.
On the contrary, Jake is following his own path to success, learning from a variety of other coaches and experienced teammates.
"I look up to my dad and I know he's a good coach, but when he says something about my wrestling, I usually get mad," Jake said. "So, I've had a lot of other people teach me how to wrestle."
Tom Ryan said he's willing to teach and advise his son, but he's careful not to push him into anything.
"I've waited for Jake to reach out to me, but I've never tried to force him into anything, because the passion for wrestling has to come from within him," Tom Ryan said. "We have a couple of mats in our basement, but I won't drag him down there and make him work out."
Liberty's coaches said they feel optimistic about Jake Ryan's future in wrestling.
"Jake's young and he's still learning to compete with older, more-experienced kids, but he shows glimpses of brilliance," Liberty assistant coach Michael Zucker said. "He has unlimited coaching resources from his dad, and he has all of the athletic skills needed to be a champion."
At a glance
Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Liberty, Olentangy and Orange wrestling teams:
*Jan. 28 -- Lost to Westerville North 36-31; Defeated DeSales 37-27
Jan. 30 -- Finished seventh (140.5) in 12-team Grizzly Invitational behind champion Wadsworth (449.5)
*Feb. 3 -- Def. Dublin Jerome 52-23; Def. Dublin Scioto 51-21
Feb. 4 -- Def. Buckeye Valley 71-9; Def. Orange 47-15
Feb. 20 -- At Division I sectional at Pickerington Central
*Jan. 28 -- Lost to Marysville 32-31
Jan. 30 -- Lost to Lakewood St. Edward 55-9; Def. DeSales 63-13
Last Saturday -- Finished third (97) in six-team Delaware Rieman Invitational behind Massillon Perry (162) and Cincinnati Elder (124). Trevor Fiorucci (103) and Joe Grandominico (145) were first.
*Friday -- At Marysville vs. Westerville North and Westerville South
*Jan. 25 -- Def. Big Walnut 48-23
*Jan. 28 -- Def. New Albany 58-12
*Today -- Home vs. Franklin Heights and Watkins Memorial