GOING TO CHICAGO â€” Bellmont's Ryley Hankenson, shown above at the NHC championships this past season, will wrestle for the University of Chicago this fall. (Photo by Jim Hopkins)
Ryley Hankenson won 11 varsity letters at Bellmont, made two trips to the IHSAA State Individual Wrestling Finals , placing fifth in 2011, and won 128 matches in his Braves' career and started at defensive back for a state championship football team, yet Bellmont assistant wrestling coach Tim Myers calls him a "diamond in the rough" and that the University of Chicago is getting some kind of talent.
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"No doubt Ryley has achieved some great things (5th at 171) this year, but I think he could be scratching the surface based on his ability and attitude," said Myers, who knows something about collegiate wrestling after his days at Indiana University.
In fact, Indiana was one of the schools interested in Hankenson. Wabash College, coached by former Bellmont state placer Brian Anderson, was also very interested in Hankenson. However, Chicago, a Division III school and coach Leo Kocher, pursued Ryley to the end, and won out.
"Ryley has genes from out of this world because of his mom and dad," noted Myers, pointing to Steve Hankenson and Bridget Boyle Hankenson.
"I've never coached anyone that has genes that he does. His mom played volleyball at the University of Illinois, and his dad wrestled there. That's not just wrestling, that's Big Ten wrestling. That tells you a little bit about daddy. And Ryley had all of that."
Ryley, 10th on the all-time Bellmont wrestling victory list, was recently presented the Al Lindahl Award at BHS, and that goes annually to the top male athlete in the school.
Myers feels that Ryley has a good shot to continue his growth at the collegiate level because he is not burned out on the sport or on athletics in general, and that's because of his and his parents' approach. He didn't start out too early or take things way too seriously at a young age, and he never really cut weight.
"He's a fun-loving kid, knows when to work hard, and doesn't take things too seriously. When he does get serious ... sometimes it was his downfall. He lost at state, bounced back and wrestled great. He puts pressure on himself. If he gets over that hump, the sky's the limit," offered Myers.
"Ryley is a little bit different, even his senior year. He hung out a lot with (teammate) Daniel Meyer. They know how to have fun, be goofballs and not have to do that other stuff kids feel they have to do," said Myers.
Meyer also had a great prep career, becoming the top all-around runningback in BHS history, and then losing only one overtime match at the IHSAA State Finals, heavyweight division. He will play football at the (Division II) University of Indianapolis.
Ryley's work ethic didn't escape Kocher. "One of the things I like about Ryley is that it looks like he works hard, and the capacity to work is an important ingredient to success in wrestling, probably more so that in any other sport. Another thing is that I don't see him being overwhelmed by an opponent's strength and speed."
Hankenson met two-time Princeton state champ Drake Stein in the finals of the Mishawaka Invitational, hit two quick takedowns to grab the lead and almost had back points. He could not score an escape point and eventually lost 5-4. He lost only two other matches all season.
In football, Ryley played as a freshman and started as a defensive back for the state championship Braves in '08. He had an outstanding senior year at halfback, though Meyer carried most of the time from the fullback slot. He went both ways and returned a couple of kicks for touchdowns. He also ran track for three years.
"Because my wrestling schedule conflicted quite a bit with Ryley’s, I was only able to watch him at the semistate tournament this year. What I saw in his three matches was a wrestler who has the tools necessary for being competitive with the best college wrestlers in the nation," said Kocher.
"Pretty much every wrestler making the transition from high school to college is starting at the bottom of another big hill to climb. And while I believe Ryley has some important adjustments to make in his technique, I can see him being very difficult to beat when he starts making those adjustments," predicted Kocher.
Chicago is a very excellent academic institution and is an expensive school. Ryley has about three-fourths of his expenses covered by scholarships.
"Because the University of Chicago is consistently (academically) ranked in the top 10 colleges in the nation, I look very hard — coast to coast and border to border — for wrestlers with an academic profile like Ryley. Ryley, his parents, his coaches, and his teachers should be proud that he has chosen both an athletic and academic challenge that will allow him to build to even greater heights on what he has achieved so far," said Kocher.
Kocher noted that Hankenson will see a lot of action as a freshman, and he's not sure what weight class. "We look forward to Ryley contributing to Chicago's competitive success as a freshman," said Kocher.
Historically, the U of C's wrestling highlights include being nationally ranked, as high as No. 5 in Division III. "Our athletes have achieved NCAA All-American status 21 times, including two NCAA championships and an outstanding wrestler of the NCAA. U of C wrestling also has had a Rhodes Scholar. I would call our schedule very challenging," added Kocher.
Kocher was co-captain of his Northwestern University wrestling team, served as an assistant there and at Northern Illinois prior to taking the top spot at Chicago. As a wrestler, he placed high in national open tourneys, has a first place in the Montreal Freestyle Open and was third in the Geco-Roman National Open.
"There's no reason Ryley can't have success at a high level," stated Myers.
"Ryley had a great senior year for us and was so dominant," stated BHS coach Brent Faurote. "That match against Stein proved what kind of competitor and wrestler he is. He's taken on a tough challenge, but he's shown the kind of work ethic and discipline that is needed to succeed at the next level."