From 2008 State champions at St. Ignatius, to Ohio State men’s club soccer teammates, to walk-ons for the Buckeyes, senior forward Denio Leone and junior midfielder Ryan Ivancic have been playing together for years.
Both players went to St. Ignatius in Cleveland, overlapping in 2008 and were recruited by other Division 1 schools, but chose to pursue their education at OSU.
Ivancic and Leone were two of the men chosen to play with the varsity team at OSU in the spring of 2012 but were cut for the fall roster last season. They were again invited back in the pool of players to play on the spring team in 2013.
A second time was enough for them to prove they could play at the varsity level and they were added to OSU’s roster for this season.
“Once I came out and played with the varsity guys and saw that I was able to keep up with the pace of the game, I thought it was definitely something I could do,” Leone said.
In high school, Leone was a three-year letter winner and 2008 state champion, and earned All-Cleveland honors.
At St. Ignatius, Ivancic won two state titles, joining his now OSU teammate 2008 and again in 2010, and was a state runner-up in 2009. He is one of three high school players in Ohio to play in three consecutive state title games. Ivancic was also recognized his senior year as a Wendy’s Heisman State Finalist, All-Ohio ESPN Rise Honorable Mention and 2010 ESPN Rise/Powerade High School Boys National Champion. He served as a captain his senior year.
Even though he had success playing the sport in high school, Leone said his passion for soccer was missing when he graduated.
“At that point in time … I was kind of sick of soccer,” Leone said. “(I) decided … I’m not going to play, so I’m just going to go Ohio State.”
Ivancic originally committed to play Big Ten soccer at Northwestern, but de-committed for financial reasons.
“I was really more interested in school anyway. I wanted to go to a good school that I liked,” Ivancic said. “I wasn’t going to chase soccer around.”
After just a year away from the game, Leone said he felt a void in his life, leading him to try out for the club team.
Ivancic on the other hand, said he knew right away he wanted to keep soccer in his life.
“Coming in, I think I knew I was going to try to walk-on,” Ivancic said. “I walked-on my freshman year when I made the spring team but got cut for the fall.”
Leone spent three seasons on the club team, leading the team in goals in both 2011 and 2012. Both Leone and Ivancic played a part in getting the team to club nationals back-to-back seasons in 2011 and 2012.
Club team president Tim Grozier has played with both men and said Leone possess skills that really help a team out.
“Denio is really good at holding the ball up top and allowing the team time to transition from defense to offense,” Grozier said in an email.
Grozier said because Ivancic is “deceptively quick,” it makes him dangerous on the wings.
“He is able to put in very good crosses from the wings and can combine well with other players in tight spaces,” Grozier said.
Coach John Bluem said it is difficult to walk-on.
“Over the years we have added some kids, but it has been very, very few,” Bluem said. “It’s been less than a handful.”
Bluem said he likes Ivancic’s “work rate.”
“He’s very fit and gets up and down the flank,” Bluem said. “He’s a good competitor and fights for the team throughout the 90 minutes.”
Bluem said Leone does well controlling the game up front.
“Denio is a very good target player,” Bluem said. “When you play the ball to him, he can hold it and help us get our midfield forward into the attack.”
Leone has played in all eight matches thus far and started two of them. Ivancic has also played in every match and started seven. Each has one goal on the season.
Leone and Ivancic are now aiming for a Big Ten title and still believe it is possible despite a 2-4-2 start to the season.
“We’ve had no Big Ten games yet, but it’s on the horizon. We start on Sunday against Indiana,” Leone said.
Ivancic said the talent is there to win it, but they have to figure out how each player fits into the mold of the team.
“We have a lot of really good players … If we believe in each other and believe in the system, I think we’ll end up having a good season,” Ivancic said.
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