Kyle Snyder battles Sean Streck of Purdue in the Big Ten semifinals (Photo/Richard Immel)
The first time Kyle Snyder saw an Olympic gold medal was his senior year in high school.
Two years later, he had one hanging around his neck.
Snyder's achievements on the wrestling mat are unprecedented.
He's the youngest Olympic champion in American wrestling history and he's the youngest world champion in U.S. history.
And he won one of the biggest matches in World Championships history by knocking off seemingly unbeatable Russian Abdulrashid Sadulaev in 2017.
Even with all of Snyder's glowing achievements, that provides no guarantee that the Ohio State senior will capture his third straight NCAA championship on March 17 in Cleveland.
"It's never easy -- especially against these big boys at heavyweight," Snyder said. "I love a challenge, and I definitely need to be at my best for this tournament. There are some big, strong guys in this weight class."
Too big to compete at the collegiate weight class of 197 pounds anymore, the 5-foot-11, 225-pound Snyder has battled much bigger athletes in the heavyweight class the last three seasons.
That group includes massive 6-foot-5, 285-pound Adam Coon of Michigan, who towers over Snyder and handed the Ohio State senior his only loss this season.
Kyle Snyder defeated Adam Coon of Michigan in the Big Ten finals (Photo/Richard Immel)
Snyder returned the favor with a dramatic overtime win over Coon in the Big Ten tournament finals.
Now the stage is set for one final showdown at the national tournament between the two talented seniors.
Snyder will be the 1 seed at NCAAs and Coon the 2 seed. Barring an upset, they will end their careers together on the elevated platform in the finals on Saturday night.
"I expect to see Coon again in the finals," Snyder said after winning Big Tens. "He's a very tough opponent and it will definitely be a battle if we meet again. We will go back to work in practice to prepare for Round 3, and try to execute our game plan at the NCAA tournament."
Snyder is one of the strongest and most powerful wrestlers in his international weight class of 213 pounds.
Heavyweight, which has a 285-pound weight limit in college, is a different matter.
Coon not only is huge for the weight class, he also is a smart wrestler who moves very well for his size. He's tough to score on and he also doesn't wear down like other heavyweights.
"I like to be really active and shoot a lot and push the pace," Snyder said. "But Coon is real heavy and his leg defense is better, so I have to be a little more strategic in how I wrestle him. I won't have to wrestle anyone as big as him again after NCAAs."
Coon also has wrestled extensively on the international level, winning a Cadet world title and also medaling at the Junior Worlds.
In the overtime battle in the Big Ten finals, Snyder fired in low on a single-leg attack against Coon. Snyder patiently worked his way into position while holding Coon's leg in the air. He then finished for a takedown while keeping his feet just inbounds to score the winning points.
Snyder's win prompted this tweet from Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion Jordan Burroughs:
"There are two types of people in this world," Burroughs wrote. "Kyle Snyder. And everyone else."
That Tweet was liked more than 6,000 times.
There are two types of people in this world. Kyle Snyder. And everyone else.�" Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) March 4, 2018
Snyder's days as a heavyweight are nearing an end.
And he's grateful for that.
Before he leaves the heaviest weight class, Snyder will look to lead the Buckeyes to another national team title.
Snyder placed second at NCAAs as a freshman at 197 pounds when Ohio State hoisted the gold team trophy in 2015.
Snyder is the epitome of what you want in a student-athlete. He excels in the classroom, he's polite, personable and respectful, and he has a strong faith. He frequently shares Bible verses on his Twitter page.
He also possesses a maturity far beyond his years and is a great ambassador for wrestling with how he carries himself and lives his life.
He's the role model you want your kids to emulate.
And he's still only 22 years old.
"Kyle has a deep desire to focus on producing his best effort," Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said. "He's process driven. He pursues positive thoughts and deletes negative ones. His focus is less on winning than on producing the best version of himself he can."
Snyder's most impressive feat came in 2017. That's when he came from behind in the closing seconds to defeat Sadulaev, an Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion in the world finals this past August in Paris.
"That was the match I was least nervous for because I was so excited," he said. "I grew up dreaming about wrestling the best wrestlers in the world. It couldn't have been a more hyped-up situation with the team title on the line."
Kyle Snyder defeated Abdulrashid Sadulaev to win a world title in Paris (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Snyder rallied for an epic 6-5 win over Sadulaev. That win propelled the United States to its first world freestyle team title since 1995, the year Snyder was born.
"It felt really great to win obviously, but I would've been happy with that performance even if I would've lost because I wrestled really well," Snyder said. "I put every ounce of energy I had into that match."
Burroughs, one of the greatest American wrestlers of all-time, fully appreciates and marvels at what Snyder has done.
"Kyle is the perfect combination of skill and belief," Burroughs said. "He desires the battle. The wrestling is the gift for Kyle, not the winning. Kyle doesn't believe in physical limitations. He thinks he's superhuman, and after watching him over the last three years, he just might be."
Snyder brings a refreshing approach to a tough, grueling sport.
"I love wrestling," he said. "I want to compete and perform to the best of my ability in every single match. The outcome isn't for me to think about. It's for God to plan. I just have to make the decisions in the moment. That's what I'm called to do."
American John Smith won two Olympic gold medals and four world titles from 1987-92. Snyder wants to surpass what the legendary Smith did.
"I like doing things people haven't done," Snyder said. "It's something that drives me."
For now, Snyder is driven to win individual and team titles in his final weekend in an Ohio State uniform.
"The main thrill I get wrestling in college right now is helping the team win," he said. "I love the competition, but to be honest, I really don't like wrestling heavyweight that much. Obviously, I would rather wrestle 213, which is my perfect weight class. I feel like I'm the strongest guy in the world at 213.
"Wrestling heavyweight in college is a different challenge, but the team aspect is so fun. I love the wrestlers and coaches we have, and I love the way we do things at Ohio State. It's been awesome to be a part of this program. I feel very confident about our chances to win an NCAA team title in Cleveland."
Snyder continues to show a penchant for earning clutch, last-second victories, at the international and collegiate levels.
Two years ago in the NCAA finals, he earned a dramatic overtime win over two-time defending champion Nick Gwiazdowski of North Carolina State at Madison Square Garden. Gwiazdowski won a world bronze medal for the U.S. last year at heavyweight.
Snyder continues to do what nobody else in the sport has done before.
"Once you reach one goal, you need to set another one," he said. "My goal is to be the best wrestler who has ever lived."
Craig Sesker has written about wrestling for more than three decades. He's covered three Olympic Games and is a two-time national wrestling writer of the year.