Fri, Apr/19
T&F
vs BW at Ohio State Jesse Owens Classic
Fri, Apr/19
T&F
vs Capital at Otterbein Twilight
Fri, Apr/19
T&F
vs Capital at Ohio State Jesse Owens Classic
Fri, Apr/19
T&F
vs Heidelberg at ONU Polar Bear Invite
Fri, Apr/19
T&F
vs John Carroll at Ohio State Jesse Owens Classic
Fri, Apr/19
T&F
vs John Carroll at BW Sparky Adams Invite
Fri, Apr/19
T&F
vs John Carroll at Wake Forest Invite
Fri, Apr/19
T&F
vs Marietta at Jesse Owens Classic
Fri, Apr/19
T&F
vs Marietta at Otterbein Invite
Fri, Apr/19
T&F
vs Mount Union at Otterbein Twilight Meet

Ohio Athletic Conference

Scholar-Athlete of the Month-Ryan Whitten, Otterbein

Story by-Adam Prescott, Otterbein Sports Information Director 

WESTERVILLE, Ohio – No matter the setting, or the circumstances that surround it, Ryan Whitten just keeps on working. It’s an approach that has gained him notoriety on the wrestling mat, in the classroom, throughout the campus community and within his Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program.

“Just the ultimate grinder in life,” said Brent Rastetter, in his sixth year as head coach of the Otterbein Wrestling program. “Nothing is ever flashy with Ryan but, at the end of the day, he gets stuff done. I’d never count him out of anything he sets his mind to.”

Whitten (Dayton/Troy Christian) chalks up positive results no matter where you look. He is a nationally-ranked wrestler with a college record of 60-14, competing at 157 pounds since arrival. The junior holds a 3.42 cumulative GPA as a computer science major while evolving as an ROTC officer in The Comet Battalion, which operates out of nearby Capital University.

Now, in deserving fashion, Whitten has been selected as the Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) Scholar-Athlete of the Month for February. In its 24th year of existence, the award honors an exceptional student-athlete on a monthly basis, with each of the 10 institutions receiving an assigned month of the academic year. Criteria consists of being at sophomore, junior, or senior status, competing in a sport that is in-season, sportsmanlike conduct, and carrying at least a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Whitten, coming from a military family, had verbally committed to fellow OAC school Heidelberg before changing his course. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Jeff, who wrestled growing up and later enrolled in the ROTC program at Ohio State.

The process for Whitten took a bit longer than expected to play out, as he didn’t receive a single ROTC scholarship until March of his senior year in high school. After receiving the call/offer from Lieutenant Colonel Jason Jajack in Columbus, Whitten looked into Otterbein and contacted Rastetter.

“I wasn’t even sure if I was good enough to wrestle in college,” said Whitten, who began the sport in second grade. “But I wanted to pursue it and see where it took me. I’ve always tried approaching things with a calm manner. Just trying to improve with each practice, period, match, and so on.”

Spoiler alert… he was good enough.

STRONG AND STEADY:

Whitten cracked the national poll as a freshman en route to a 39-8 overall record. His shining moment came at the NCAA Central Regionals, where he stunned many in attendance by winning the entire 157-pound bracket. He beat No. 9-ranked Cole Hersch (Olivet) 6-4 in sudden victory during the semifinals, and then outlasted No. 14-ranked Dalton Leightner (Baldwin Wallace) with another narrow decision for the crown.

Unfortunately, the NCAA Championships were canceled due to COVID and Whitten never got to step on the mat despite arriving in Cedar Rapids, Iowa alongside star heavyweight Drew Kasper. The last two seasons also haven’t been quite that easy to swallow with the pandemic still shaking out. Otterbein had just a handful of matches last winter and has endured more cancellations this school year.

“His attitude through COVID has been the truest indication to what kind of person he is,” Rastetter said. “He probably should have accomplished more (by now) than what he’s been afforded the opportunity to. A lot of people boo-hoo and find excuses… but never once has he hung his head. It’s on to the next thing.”

The calculated, methodical approach can wear opponents down as he remains content winning however necessary. In fact, his 60 victories have come via 31 decisions, 14 pins, 11 technical falls and four majors. He is comfortable operating in close matches, staying in position to score points when they are there.

“I’m ready for seven minutes every time out,” said Whitten, noting how many postseason bouts go to the wire. “When you think about it, your individual record doesn’t truly matter until regionals… as everything resets. The top three go to nationals however you slice it. I always want to be at my best when that time comes.”

Whitten has quickly gone from program newcomer to team captain, embracing a quiet leadership role and taking younger Cardinals under his wing. That was on full display this past summer as he connected with promising freshman-to-be Cale Callahan (165 pounds)… and the two began training together.

“He beat up on me pretty good at first,” Callahan said with a laugh. “Working with him has made such a huge difference. I originally thought I was losing confidence, but then went to a (summer) tournament in Virginia Beach and won six matches. I realized how much better he made me in that short time.”

Whitten is currently ranked No. 18 nationally in his division and will be a prime contender at regionals in Michigan later this month, but that isn’t all he’s working toward…

PAYS TO BE SMART:

Whitten aspires to be in the IT/cyber security field after graduation, and decided to major in computer science upon enrolling. But he remembers sitting in his first class and the professor asking which students had previous programming experience.

“I was the only kid who didn’t raise my hand,” Whitten said. “I struggled in silence my freshman year, putting in a lot of extra hours just to stay caught up. It’s been hard, but I realized it’s ok to ask for help. Consistently utilizing the professors and tutoring has been so beneficial to my academic path.”

He’s since made the Dean’s List twice while balancing ROTC workload around normal undergraduate work. He has morning class over at Capital twice per week, along with a two-hour lab on Thursday. Add in wrestling practice, normal studies, focusing on nutrition habits and cutting weight to the mix.

“It’s pretty impressive seeing him balance responsibilities and lead by example,” Callahan added. “It motivates us younger guys to grow in the same way. Ryan is easy to look up to and have good conversations with.”

Whitten hopes to become a second lieutenant for the U.S. Army, going the National Guard route where he could stay in Ohio and perform weekend/summer obligations… while holding a full-time job as a government contractor.

Before any of that, he will tackle a monthlong ROTC “advanced camp” this summer. Instructors deliver a multitude of sample situations and the trainees eventually become ranked on a national level. Anyone who knows Whitten is likely betting he will finish high on the list.

“Every time I bring a recruit in, Ryan is one of the first names that comes up,” Rastetter said. “That’s what we are looking for. He is the measuring stick now.  His nature is to be successful and, no matter where he goes in life, good things will follow.”