Some four months ago, Kyle Snyder was hoisting the American flag triumphantly in Las Vegas following his world-championship victory.
That same image now hangs from the rafters of St. John Arena on a banner, commemorating the struggles and sacrifices the Ohio State sophomore wrestler made on his way to glory at the record-breaking age of 19.
Snyder poured his heart into his training, and it showed on the mat, beating world-renowned opponents like Olympic gold-medal winner Jake Varner on his way to earning the championship.
Along the way, Snyder picked up victories in the Pan American Games and the U.S. Team Trials, as well as at the U.S. Open before taking home the gold in the World Championships.
With all those accolades piling up for Snyder, balancing those national duties with his academics and OSU team became a great challenge. As a result, it was announced midway through 2015 that Snyder would be redshirting his sophomore year at OSU and instead work toward Olympic glory.
At the time, his peers and mentors felt it was the right choice.
“I thought the best thing for him early on was to definitely take an Olympic waiver,” OSU coach Tom Ryan said.
Buckeye fans were in for a surprise, though, as in early January the team announced that Snyder would remove the redshirt and return to OSU to compete in the latter half of the season.
It was a move that Snyder, OSU coaches and Team USA coaches all agreed upon.
“I think I decided a week before Christmas,” Snyder said. “I talked to the USA coaching staff and everybody and made sure it was the smart decision.”
Ryan flipped his initial standpoint after more details arose.
“As things started to fall into place, it seemed like the best thing for him was coming back,” Ryan said.
Snyder’s return was set to happen in early February.
“We were initially thinking Penn State,” Ryan said.
But in the Buckeyes’ match with Nebraska on Jan. 17, the 97-kilogram world champion made his return to the mat after his honorary banner was unveiled.
It was a moment that Snyder wasn’t expecting.
“I didn’t know I was getting the banner, or any type of banner, until midway through the week,” Snyder said. “They just said, ‘Hey, you’re getting a banner.’”
The crowd at St. John Arena roared at the announcement of Snyder’s return, but he gave them even more to cheer about when he took the mat in the day’s final match.
With the score even at 17, Snyder defeated Nebraska’s Colin Jensen to secure a 21-17 victory for the Buckeyes.
The moment that was shared between athlete and coaches meant a lot to the returning sophomore.
“It was fun being able to go out with the coaching staff that’s helped me achieve that goal,” Snyder said. “It was a special moment, but I wish my family could have been here to see it.”
Ryan said he felt with Snyder available, there was no way to keep him out of the lineup.
“We thought he was going to be in Russia this weekend,” Ryan said after the match against Nebraska. “And when he wasn’t, it seemed natural to have him return.”
In his freshman year, Snyder competed in the 197-pound class, where he achieved a 30-4 record and was a runner-up at the NCAA Championships.
Now, after spending time training and competing for an Olympic run, Snyder has returned to compete as a heavyweight.
“The motivation for this year, and for every year after this that I’m competing, is to be the best in the world,” Snyder said. “I think coming back this year is going to help the team, but it’s also going to help me.”
There has been an adjustment by the sophomore to switch weight classes, but he does feel the added practice will benefit his career in the future.
“I’m going to get a few more matches in against some tough, strong competitors,” Snyder said. “I think wrestling them and figuring them out is going to help me in the long run.”
Ryan agreed, citing how the experience Snyder gains from these matches will do nothing but benefit him in his path to the Olympics and beyond.
“The more heavyweight matches he gets, the better,” Ryan said.
With the return of someone with the credentials of Snyder, the OSU wrestling room has become a true force to be reckoned with in the NCAA. As of rankings released Jan. 19, the Scarlet and Gray are ranked No. 9 in the country.
Snyder did not compete against Michigan State, even though the Buckeyes won handily, 33-9, but he is expected to participate in future meets this season.
Currently, Snyder is 1-0 for the season and 31-4 overall as a collegiate wrestler.
Despite the obvious success on the mat, Ryan said he feels that there are more qualities brought by the sophomore than just an ability to dictate matches.
“He is an incredible example of how to do things right,” Ryan said. “He sets the standard where every coach wants his team to go.”
OSU’s next match is set for Friday against Indiana in Bloomington, Indiana. It’s scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., with Snyder’s presence in the lineup yet to be announced.