At first glance, Nate Tomasello might not look like one of the most intimidating athletes in Ohio.
At 5-foot-3 and about 125 pounds walking around, Tomasello looks like an honors student -- which he is, carrying a 4.1 grade-point average at Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy.
However, a closer look at Tomasello reveals a physique that is chiseled.
Put him on a wrestling mat and his easy, impish smile goes away, replaced by a fierce stare.
Little wonder why, when facing Tomasello, many opponents this season have chose to forfeit rather than face him.
This week, Tomasello will attempt to become the 23th wrestler in Ohio high school history to claim the sport's top prize at this level: Four-time state champion.
Tomasello said he has been reflecting on his time at CVCA recently.
"I've thought about the journey a lot," Tomasello said. "The whole year has been about making it back to states. I'm just getting myself mentally prepared. That's been the focus because I know there's going to be pressure, knowing that you're going for your fourth title.
"I have to just not let that get to me," he added. "Wrestling my best is the most important thing."
Coming into last weekend's district meet at Alliance, Tomasello's record stood at 43-0. He finished his sophomore and junior seasons undefeated.
His last loss came as a freshman at the 2010 Top Gun Tournament at Alliance. His opponent: Three-time state champion Ryan Taylor.
Tomasello said he's not nervous heading into states.
"I think trusting in my training, knowing that I've really worked hard for this," Tomasello said. "Putting in all those hours is what gets you better. Performing because you've trained for it. That's what keeps you at the top level. There's never a point when you think you're the best."
Tomasello might not be willing to think he's the best, but there's little doubt the Ohio State recruit will go down as one of the greatest ever to come out of Ohio.
Driven to Join
an elite club
CVCA head coach Dave Bergen knows a thing or two about four-time state champions.
Bergen was CVCA's coach when Justin "Harry" Lester won four state titles for the Royals, the last of which came in 2001. Lester went on to represent the United States in freestyle wrestling at the 2012 Olympics in London.
So how does he compare the two wrestlers?
"I put Nathan on the same level as Harry, which is amazing to think about it," Bergen said. "I would call him a super talent."
Talent-level aside, however, Bergen said Tomasello and Lester differ in many ways.
"Totally different styles and totally different mindsets, which I find fascinating," Bergen said. "Harry, I would say, probably had a bit more natural talent. He had a unique gift of balance and speed. He came out the womb being a great wrestler.
"In all the years I've been in wrestling, I've never seen a guy work like Nate Tomasello, ever. When you get to that higher echelon of athlete, that's truly the difference."
CVCA senior Josh Decatur, who has been Tomasello's drill partner for four years at CVCA, agrees.
"He has a tremendous work ethic," Decatur said. "I've never met anybody who works like him. And he doesn't like to lose. It's definitely helped me out. He's pushed me to be better."
How hard does Tomasello work at his craft? Consider the fact he likes to get to workouts in every single day.
Those workouts include either two full two-hour wrestling practices or the equivalent time working on weight training or boxing, which Tomasello said has helped his conditioning, hand speed and to become "more fluent."
Does he rest on Sunday, especially after a weekend wrestling tournament? Nope.
"I usually try to get three workouts in one day a week, usually on Sunday," Tomasello said.
That drive has made Tomasello stand out and dream of one day wrestling at the Olympics, which he said he plans to shoot for in 2016.
"I believe that Nathan has the potential to be an Olympian," Bergen said. "His whole thing is 'I will outwork anybody that I wrestle.'"
Bergen describes Tomasello as "a power wrestler," which is rare at the 120-pound weight class.
Decatur said he describes his drill partner's style as "six minutes of complete pressure."
"He does not get tired," Decatur said. "Eventually, people just crack."
along the way
While Tomasello puts pressure on his opponents, he's also put a lot of pressure on his family's car.
Tomasello is a native of Parma. His fraternal twin brother, Troy, graduated from Normandy last spring. He is currently a freshman at Cleveland State University and nationally ranked as a figure skater. Sister Rachel is a sophomore at Valley Forge High School.
Needless to say, the 70-minute round trip each day from CVCA to Parma is a bit of journey in itself.
"We've done a lot of driving around and spent a lot of time, but when your child has a passion for something, you want to see them succeed," said Sue Tomasello, Nate's mother. "I guess you just want to see them realize their dreams. My husband [Tom] has worked a lot of overtime."
Sue Tomasello said her son played numerous sports as a young child, but wrestling didn't enter the equation until about fifth grade, which is a late start compared to many in the sport.
Sue said her son's favorite sport was soccer growing up. Nate actually played for CVCA's state-ranked soccer team his freshman year.
After starting with the Valley Forge youth wrestling club, Nate wrestled with the Midpark youth club after his first year.
Sue Tomasello said Midpark's coach Bob Johnson saw her son could be special right away.
"At first, he didn't think it was that fun," Sue Tomasello said. "After the first week [at Midpark], he wanted to quit because he was losing. Coach Johnson said 'You are not quitting, I am not letting you.'"
Things changed quickly, as Sue Tomasello decided to hold her son back in the eighth grade to help his wrestling career.
"He only weighed about 78 pounds after the eighth grade," Sue said.
Tomasello said he looked at going to St. Edward and Padua Franciscan for high school, but Sue said a trip to the Disney Duals wrestling tournament with many of his would-be CVCA teammates clinched his decision to become a Royal.
Ready for the
Tomasello was one of the most highly sought wrestling prospects in the country this year. He took official recruiting visits to Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Purdue and Iowa before signing with Ohio State in November.
Tomasello said the decision to become a Buckeye largely came down to him knowing his future teammates. Current Buckeyes Logan and Hunter Stieber trained with Tomasello when they were in high school.
Bergen said Tomasello "attacks his academics the same way he attacks wrestling." Tomasello plans to major in engineering at Ohio State.
Bergen said his star wrestler should continue to be a star at Ohio State.
"Nathan has a lot of character," Bergen said. "He said when he gets to Ohio State, 'I will not redshirt. I will push the room.' I would say that if he continues to improve, which he will, I think he's got a serious chance to AA [be All-American] all four years."
Tomasello said he plans to start at 125 pounds for the Buckeyes -- but he's got one more trip to make to Ohio State as a high school wrestler before he dons scarlet and grey.
The Division II state tournament starts at Ohio State's Value City Arena Feb. 28.
"It's been an amazing journey," Tomasello said. "Every time I step into Walsh Jesuit's gym, it brings back a lot of good memories with the Ironman and sectionals. To finish off going undefeated my last three years would be awesome."
When he won his first state title as freshman, Tomasello was asked when he'd start working to win another.
"Tomorrow," he answered.
This time, if he wins title No. 4, Tomasello plans to enjoy the experience a bit.
"I'll probably take a couple days off," Tomasello said, he said with a smile.
After that, it's back to work.