Kyle Snyder stood in the corner of Good Counsel High’s gym Sunday afternoon and waited to reacquaint himself with the launchpad of his sparkling wrestling career. The navy-and-gold center mat looked exactly the same as he had left it in 2013, but everything that has happened since — a world championship, an NCAA title, an Olympic gold medal — rendered this an entirely different spectacle altogether.
For starters, Snyder was no longer sporting his high school’s colors. The burly 21-year-old donned a black Ohio State warmup pullover as he prepared for a home dual meet roughly 405 miles off campus. The unusual showdown — held just 15 miles from College Park — was the result of a recruiting pitch from Ohio State Coach Tom Ryan, who promised Snyder a home meet at his old high school at some point before he graduated.
Snyder, a junior, paced the warmup mat, but he wasn’t getting loose for his upcoming heavyweight bout just yet. Instead, he was signing hats and T-shirts for giddy children as parents leaned back to take pictures. A sold-out crowd of 1,200 spectators filled the bleachers on either side.
“It’s nuts,” Snyder mumbled as he scrawled his name across another hat’s bill.
Watching him crack jokes with old friends and shake hands with admirers, though, it seemed the only other thing different about Snyder now was the hair on his face.
“He’s been the same kid since he was 15 years old,” said Kevin Snyder, Kyle’s younger brother and a redshirt freshman wrestler at Ohio State.
About two hours later, CSN’s Chick Hernandez announced the afternoon’s final matchup: Snyder against Maryland heavyweight Youssif Hemida. Hemida faced a remarkable challenge against a phenom five months and one day removed from becoming the youngest Olympic gold medalist in U.S. wrestling history, but the Terrapins sophomore took Snyder all the way to the 2:44 mark in the third period.
Snyder’s relentless shots and catlike quickness — at 5 feet 11, 225 pounds, he is not a typical heavyweight — earned him a 22-7 win by technical fall. The crowd rose for a standing ovation at the conclusion of fourth-ranked Ohio State’s decisive 30-12 victory.
Two people who weren’t so gobsmacked by Snyder’s presence bore Maryland singlets. Jhared Simmons, a 141-pound junior, wrestled alongside Snyder for three years at Good Counsel and calls the former prodigy “maybe one of the goofiest kids I know.”
Adam Whitesell, a Good Counsel alum wrestling for Maryland at 149 pounds, remembers Snyder’s peerless work ethic. Whitesell once did a double-take in class when he noticed something on his teammate’s leg: Snyder was wearing ankle weights.
“I realized, ‘Wow, that kid is dedicated,’ ” Whitesell said.
Snyder’s drive has always been plain to Ryan, but the Ohio State coach points to something he admires more. A maintenance worker approached Ryan on the Madison Square Garden floor in March, after Snyder’s raucous victory over N.C. State’s Nick Gwiazdowski in the NCAA heavyweight final.
“He said, ‘I want you to know that through the entire weekend he’s the only kid in the tournament that continually thanked me for filling up the water jugs,’ ” Ryan recalled.
When Sunday’s event concluded, Snyder rushed out of his old high school alongside his parents, Tricia and Steve, so that he could catch a 6:35 p.m. flight out of Dulles. He would fly from Washington to Paris, from Paris to Moscow and from Moscow to Krasnoyarsk, Russia, where he is set to compete Sunday in the Yarygin Grand Prix, an international competition that is considered one of the toughest wrestling tournaments in the world.
It’s a big meet, but Snyder will take it on with the same approach that won him a gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in August. Family and friends remember how he reacted to that one: Immediately after he vanquished Azerbaijan’s Khetag Gazyumov, the most accomplished young wrestler in U.S. history showed no sign of emotion.
“I think that as a wrestler I’m getting better, learning more, improving, trying to become a better athlete,” Snyder said. “But as a person, things are pretty much the same.”