Wrestling Ohio State volunteer coach Anthony Ralph finds talent in overlooked recruits

Anthony Ralph joined the Ohio State wrestling program as a volunteer assistant coach in October 2016. Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State AthleticsAnthony Ralph started in collegiate wrestling as a competitor at Kent State, but it wasn’t until he took a post-graduation job as an assistant coach at Notre Dame College that he realized the nuances of recruiting.“It was selling a school, getting the people to trust in you, building relationships that start through the recruiting process,” Ralph said. “If the student-athlete trusts you enough to come to a school that you believe in, it kind of builds that bond and friendship.” Now, as a volunteer assistant coach for the Ohio State wrestling team, Ralph has taken his love of recruiting and combined it with an analytical approach to find unheralded recruits who might bring success to the program. He calls his strategy “moneyball,” a reference to the analytics-driven success the Oakland Athletics had in 2002. “At Notre Dame, myself and a couple of the other coaches kind of came up with a system, an algorithm to find value in guys that other schools don’t see,” Ralph said. “It’s recruiting those guys that aren’t getting the everyday call from Penn State or Michigan, Iowa, Oklahoma State.”Ralph came to Notre Dame College in 2006 at the invitation of his former Kent State coach, Frank Ramano, who was creating the Falcons’ wrestling program. By 2012, Ralph had helped bring in No. 1 recruiting classes in the NAIA from 2012-16. During his time as an assistant coach, he helped lead the Falcons to three NAIA national titles as well as an NCAA Division II team championship in 2014, producing 18 national champions and 62 All-Americans. “Before I left, I think we were No. 1 in the country the last five years,” Ralph said. “So, something I kind of took pride on because I couldn’t compete anymore. That was kind of my way of competing, as far as with other programs.” Ohio State associate head wrestling coach J Jaggers noticed Ralph’s success and kept his childhood friend from northeast Ohio on his radar.By December 2016, the old friends were reunited in Columbus, using the same algorithm that brought him success with the Falcons. “What his system is designed to do is provide depth, find value in some kids that the [recruiting] rankings may not indicate at the time,” Jaggers said.Ralph said the secret of the algorithm is to focus on wrestlers who specialize in scoring. It spots kids who are taking the most risks on the mat, showing consistency in shot attempts and points scored. This helps find wrestlers who are assertive rather than passive, head coach Tom Ryan said.“There are a lot of guys that win at the high school level that are not points scorers, lots of state champions, lots of highly ranked guys that are not point scorers,” Ryan said. “When you look at one of the critical ingredients to success at the next level, it’s a desire to put yourself in scoring positions all the time, so a lack of fear.”Ryan said Ralph has already become a key part of the coaching staff, pointing to the amount of work he does to find guys who fit the culture of Ohio State wrestling. “The biggest thing in the biggest way is that he digs so much that he finds people that want to be here,” Ryan said. “We need depth and I would say that he has already, in his short time here, helped a lot with our depth.”Ralph said “moneyball” is more than just finding athletes to round out the wrestling roster. It is to continue to build what Ryan and the rest of the coaching staff has built at Ohio State. “Using that ‘moneyball’ system, we are not just looking for depth,” Ralph said. “We are looking for guys that can wrestle at the Big Ten level and become All-Americans and national champs.”Jaggers said he thinks Ralph could become the nation’s best recruiter. “When he put his mind to, ‘I’m trying to be the best recruiter in college wrestling,’ with his personality and his skill set, yeah it could easily happen,” Jaggers said.