Here’s how you know Fairmont junior Nevan Snodgrass is tough. That intricate tattoo of a dragon on his left shoulder? It took four sessions and 13 hours.
“I slept through most of it. It felt like a massage,” Snodgrass said.
The tattoo represents everything Snodgrass has become on the wrestling mat. Fierce. Fiery. And formidable to take down.
It wasn’t long ago that his toughest opponent, Snodgrass admits, was himself. Though he finished fourth at the Division I state meet both his freshman and sophomore seasons, Snodgrass struggled with the sport’s mental aspect. The pressure of starting high school, keeping up with his studies and being a nationally-ranked wrestler – among other distractions – was weighing on him.
“I wasn’t fitting in. … I didn’t know who I wanted to be,” he said. “I knew I was Nevan Snodgrass, this person. But I also wanted to be Nevan Snodgrass, this person and this person and this person. It all messed with me.”
He grades dropped. He was hanging out with a different crowd. He still excelled on the mat going 33-7 as a freshman at 145 pounds and 29-6 at 160. But Snodgrass said, it wasn’t fun.
“It took me three years to realize I’m really screwing up. This year I cut all the bad things out of my life. I brought my grades up,” said Snodgrass, who had all A’s and B’s last semester. “I’m here to have fun. That’s what killed me the past couple years. All the things I’ve been through and me putting pressure on myself. It made it not fun. Now I’m here to have fun.”
Snodgrass enters this weekend’s D-I district championships ranked No. 3 in the state at 170 by borofanohio.net. He’s ranked No. 17 in the nation by TrackWrestling.com and No. 19 by FloWrestling.org. He’s predicted to finish third at the D-I state meet behind Olentangy Liberty senior Carson Kharchla (ranked No. 1 in the nation) and Ashtabula Lakeside junior Jacob Lagoa.
Snodgrass stands 5-foot-5 – shorter than most of the wrestlers at his weight – but he’s no underdog. His blend of strength, footwork and ability to quickly change direction has the attention of major Division I college programs.
“He is one of the strongest and most explosive wrestlers I’ve ever been around, much less coached. He’s a bad dude in most cases,” Fairmont coach Frank Baxter said.
“I’m so proud of that kid for what he’s done this year. He’s just really become a great student, a great leader within the program – and not just vocally but also by example. His ability to turn away from maybe some bad influences and go to good influences and positive citizenship and behavior, it’s something rare for a high school kid. It’s difficult for people of any age to get rid of bad influences in their life. He was able to do it when he was 16 years old. I’m more proud of the turnaround he’s made in that sense than anything he’s done on the mat, and he’s been tremendously impressive on the mat.”
Snodgrass is 39-2 entering the two-day district meet at Fairmont, which starts Friday. The top four finishers in each weight class qualify for next week’s state championships in Columbus. His goal is to meet up with Kharchla for the 170-pound state title. Now that would be fun.
“Honestly, without wrestling I wouldn’t be here right now,” he said. “I’d be not a good kid. I’d be a flunky and maybe out of school. Then I wanted to give up. I just didn’t want to do anything anymore. I just wanted to get through life. Now I realize I have so much potential in anything I do.”
Snodgrass said he has plans for another tattoo, but he doesn’t want to reveal it just yet. As for Baxter, would he get himself a dragon tattoo to celebrate a state title with Snodgrass?
“I would have to talk to my wife and kids about that first,” Baxter said, laughing. “I doubt it but you never can tell.”