Hard work pays off with state title for Canfield junior Stein

Tribune Chronicle file photo / Joe Simon Tyler Stein, right, of Canfield won the Division II 220-pound state championship last weekend.

Tyler Stein is unlike most high school kids in that he watches what he eats. To the surprise of many, it’s not whole cows or the latest human growth hormone.

The Canfield junior’s muscles have muscles, and they’re intimidated by his other muscles. All joking aside, Stein is built more like a professional wrestler than one still in high school.

In short, he’s a big dude. And there’s a fairly good reason for it.

“My family own a gym,” said Stein, whose family runs VSN Athletic Performance Fitness Center in Boardman. “I was in there this offseason, and during football season, I was in there two times a day, even with football practice. Before school and after football practice. … It was just a cycle for me because this was my goal.”

The “this” he referred to was a state championship, which he secured Saturday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus, beating Brandon Phillips 7-3 in the title match. Stein won four straight bouts in the 220-pound weight class in Division II, and it took a lot more than strength to accomplish that feat.

Sure, bench-pressing 355 pounds and squatting 500 helps quite a bit when Stein is executing a move, but as he and his coach said, strength won’t always make up for any flaws he may have in his technique or give him the stamina he needs in the third period of a close match.

Luckily, there haven’t been too many flaws — or close matches.

“Last year, he goes on, after the state tournament and not placing, to (becoming an) all-American in two of the toughest offseason tournaments in the country,” said Canfield coach Steve Pitts as he described how Stein improved from last year, when he went 1-2 at the state tournament. “Then he goes on to have this great football season, now a great wrestling season, so you could see that vision coming to fruition. I think he was upset with himself. He has high goals — a lot of our guys do — and he needed to go through that experience to get here.”

The failure he endured as a sophomore at the state tournament is what fueled the double-duty he pulled at the gym. The painful reminder of losing a match at state that he was winning 8-3 was why he sacrificed a good portion of his spring and summer, spending it at wrestling clubs and tournaments across the country. Watching five other teammates walk away with medals while he sat in the stands is why he never let up on them in the practice room.

They, in return, brought the same relentless approach, and considering Canfield had state qualifiers at 182, 195 and 285 pounds, Stein had plenty of competition.

“It’s a room of hard-working guys, and most of us are in there year-round if we don’t have another sport, traveling everywhere (for tournaments),” Stein said. “We set our goals, and then we work with each other to make them happen. It’s like a family.”

One that’s still growing.

Stein finished the season 49-3 and will be the favorite to repeat at his weight class when next season starts. His closest competition might be a teammate.

If sophomore Nick Crawford, who placed fifth at the state tournament, grows any more, he could be in the same weight class as a Stein. Chances are, the Cardinals will avoid such a conflict, especially Stein, who could’ve lost a few pounds (let’s be honest, it probably would’ve been muscle) and wrestled at 195. Instead, he stayed at 220, and things seem to have worked out.

“He could’ve went (195), but he realized, as a team, we needed him at 220,” Pitts said. “That’s always been Tyler. In middle school, to win a league title, when I was the head coach there, I bumped him up a weight class to get somebody else in, and he didn’t complain. That’s always been him.”

Being muscular has been him as well, and it’s reaching an absurd level.

What’s the secret? Aside from owning a gym and lifting a lot, what else is the action-figure look-alike doing to sculpt his body? He eats right and chooses the right friends.

“Everybody asks me what I take, and it’s just protein and sleep, and I train hard,” said Stein, adding that he “eats clean” and rarely indulges in any sugar because he doesn’t like the way it makes him feel. “(My dad) was a body builder when he was a younger. And my trainers are some of my best friends.”

Well, that always helps.