Even though Pickerington High School North wrestling coach Brad Harris knew his team would need a heavyweight this season, junior Geno Rollo wasn't a cinch for that spot as recently as last summer.
But after Rollo, who wrestled at 220 pounds last season, bulked up to more than 260 pounds and became a college prospect as a defensive lineman for the Panthers' football team, Harris had no choice.
"Based on his style, position and movement, heavyweight became the best fit for Geno," Harris said. "We realized just because of his size, 220 was out of the question. Heavyweight matches can sometimes turn into shoving matches, and Geno is able to succeed with that."
Rollo entered the James Horning Memorial Invitational on Jan. 19 at Mason with an 10-3 record, with two wins coming by pin. Last year at heavyweight for the Panthers was 2012 graduate Pat Elflein, who finished 33-2 last season, including 1-2 at state. Elflein now plays football for Ohio State.
Because North's football season didn't end until Nov. 24, when the Panthers lost 26-21 to Cincinnati Moeller in a Division I state semifinal, Rollo didn't make his season debut until the Medina Invitational Tournament on Dec. 28 and 29, going 1-2.
"I knew (competing at heavyweight would) be tough because it's a lot of weight to bear, but I'm hanging in there. It's tough," said Rollo, who is drawing interest from several college football programs, including Iowa, Michigan State and Toledo, according to Scout.com. "I'm trying to get up in weight because I want to go to college for football. I'm using this for that."
Entering last weekend, senior Wyatt Starkey was 10-8 with nine pins at 182 and senior Nick Mitchell was 10-12 with nine wins at 220. The Panthers have not been able to fill the 195 weight class.
Starkey missed last season with a dislocated elbow.
"Wyatt's had some great matches and Nick's really in his first year of wrestling," Harris said. "He entered this year with no varsity wins and now he has nine wins, all by pin. You could tell from the outset he had some promise. He put in a lot of time (practicing). I give a lot of credit to my assistant coach, Herman Moultrie, who works with the upper classes. He's taught all those guys a lot."
The Panthers improved to 5-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division by defeating Lancaster 48-29 and host Newark 68-3 on Jan. 17. They are tied for first in the league with Central and will face the Tigers in a league dual Feb. 7 at home.
Underclassmen boosting Tigers
Central has been filling seven of the 14 weight classes with freshmen or sophomores. While coach Jason Allen swears he doesn't think much about grade levels, he does enough to drill a message into his younger competitors almost daily.
"Now they're no longer freshmen. They're now sophomores, and it's time for them to move forward," Allen said. "I expect them all to better themselves by at least one year at this time. So far, everybody has. They've progressed. The freshmen are now wrestling like sophomores, and so on and so forth.
"Basically, it's learning the work ethic in the room. Once they get that, it takes them to another level in competition."
Entering the week, the lineup included sophomores Dalton Dunnette (138), Devin Johnson (106), Aaron Morefield (heavyweight), Ryan McElwee (113) and Jonathan Taranto (132) and freshmen John Beaver (220) and JoJo Terry (120).
Terry won the Kevin Cleveland Memorial Tournament on Jan. 5 at Dublin Scioto, defeating Andrew Rush of Toledo St. John's 6-1 in the final, and placed second in the Wazie Classic on Dec. 1 at Mount Vernon.
Morefield placed second and Taranto was fourth in the Wazie Classic.
"It's mainly the daily grind in the room that I think they need (to get) acclimated to," Allen said.
"Usually, it takes a couple months. I'm pleased with how they've progressed and they know we're relying on them."
First state team tourney under way
The inaugural Division I state team tournament began Jan. 23, with second-seeded Central competing against seventh-seeded Watkins Memorial in the first round of Region 6-B of the dual-format tournament and fifth-seeded North facing fourth-seeded Lancaster in the first round of the same region.
In the second round Wednesday, Jan. 30, at a site to be announced, the Central-Watkins Memorial winner will face third-seeded Teays Valley or sixth-seeded Gahanna.
The North-Lancaster winner will compete against top-seeded Mount Vernon or eighth-seeded Reynoldsburg.
The second-round winners will meet in a regional semifinal that same day at the same site, with the winner advancing to a regional final Feb. 6.