Bolstered by the bond of teammates and the backing of family and coaches, Ian Heath continues to give it his all on the high school wrestling mat.
The 132-pound junior at Leo enjoys workouts and meets with about a dozen other Lions, appreciates all the support from his parents and sister and gets guidance from a staff led by a seasoned head coach.
“Everything you do is for your team and for your family,” says Heath.
“We’ve got a small team. We’re super close and would do anything for each other. It makes you want to wrestle harder when you do it for guys you’ve bonded with. I really enjoy how close we are.
“It’s like a big group of brothers.”
Ian is the son of Shane and Kelli Heath and the older brother of Anna. Shane is Fort Wayne Police Department detective and former Norwell High School wrestler, Kelli a DeKalb County probation officer and Anna a Leo eighth grader.
“They’ve supported me through everything,” says Ian. “Me and my dad have been on so many road trips. My mom has stayed up so many late nights washing clothes. My little sister helps clean mats at the high school.
“It’s a family effort for sure.”
Rod Williams is in his 30th season of coaching high school wrestling in Indiana. It’s his fifth in charge at Leo. He was head coach at East Noble and Norwell and before that an assistant at his alma mater — DeKalb (Class of 1986).
Among his East Noble grapplers was Taylor March, who won 163 matches with a state titles, two runners-up and a third-place finish. Danny Irwin, who is now head coach at West Liberty (W.Va.) University, wrestled for Williams at Norwell.
Danny’s brother, Matt Irwin, was in junior high when Williams led the Knights program and went on to win a state title.
Williams wrestled for Logansport and head coach Joe Patacsil then moved to DeKalb as a senior and worked with head coach Russ Smith. He grappled at Manchester College for head coach Tom Jarman.
“I was blessed with outstanding coaches,” says Williams, who is assisted this season at Leo by Chad Lothamer, Tad Davis and son Logan Williams.
Heath says Rod Williams trains wrestlers to defeat the best.
“You work to beat the top 1 percent and you’ll beat everybody else anyways,” says Heath. “We focus at Leo on proper technique that’s going to beat the best guys.”
Heath and his mat brothers take that message of being relentless to heart.
“(Williams) preaches that to the team,” says Heath. “That’s what we try to live by at Leo.
“It comes back to wrestling hard the whole time."
“It’s not about doing just enough to win. That’s not what Coach Williams wants.”
What Williams appreciates about Heath is his willingness to always give his best effort.
“Everybody wants to be a champion,” says Williams. “Very few people are willing to pay the price. (Heath’s) motor never stops."
“We always say we want to be extremely stubborn on our feet, relentless on top and explosive on bottom. He never stops wrestling.”
As for Heath’s place on the team, his head coach sees him as a leader with his work ethic.
“He leads by example,” says Williams. “He’s very encouraging of the other guys."
“A lot of the other wrestlers feed off his intensity.”
Heath had his first mat experiences in first grade, but really began to take the sport seriously in middle school. He has traveled extensively since then and competed with coach Bryan Bailey the Indiana Outlaws Wrestling Club and trained with coach Kevin English and Elite Athletic Club among others.
“In the off-season, we travel everywhere,” says Heath. “It’s a different practice every night."
“(English) told me to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and embrace the whole grind of the sport.”
Spending so much time in so many different wrestling environments has taught Heath many ways to attack and defend.
“I really enjoy new technique,” says Heath. “When it comes down to it,
I have my fundamentals I stick to.
“But I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve.”
Heath went 41-6 as a Leo freshman and was a qualifier for the IHSAA State Finals at 120. As a sophomore, he went 44-3 and placed fifth at 126. He is off to a 5-0 start as a junior.
At 90-9, Heath is No. 2 on the all-time victory list at Leo. With nearly two seasons left in his prep career, he seems sure to go well past 2007 graduate Chad Friend (112-13) for No. 1.
“It’s not as important to me as getting as good as I can,” says Heath.
“I’m not chasing records."
“I have a passion and love for the sport. Everyday I go to practice I get to do what I love."
“It makes it easier to get through the tough times.”
His regular workout partners are senior Clayton Jackson (138) and junior Jacob Veatch (126) as well as Logan Williams.
Jackson and Veatch present contrasting styles.
“Clay is very fundamental,” says Heath. “He has very good defense. He stays in good position all the time.
“If I’m going to score on him, it has to be perfect technique.”
Jackson and senior Tom Busch (285) serve as team captains. Heath describes Veatch as “super funky” and flexible.
“I have to be even more fundamental (against Veatch),” says Heath. “I have to finish quick and start if I’m going to finish the takedown on Jake."
“I’ve got great partners.”
The Leo schedule includes the New Haven Super 10 on Dec. 21, the North Montgomery Holiday Tournament Dec. 27-28 (duals on Friday and individual format on Saturday) and the Class 2A Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals. Four of eight Northeast Eight Conference schools — Leo, Bellmont, Columbia City and Norwell— will compete.
“Everything you do is working toward the middle of February,” says Heath. “I take every match one match at a time. But State’s always on my mind."
“There’s nothing compares to being on the floor at Bankers Life.”
Heath has already experienced what it’s like on Friday night of the State Finals with the Parade of Champions leading up to first-round matches.
“We’re all in the (Indiana) Pacers practice gym and it’s quiet,” says Heath. “You know in about 20 minutes it’s ‘go time.’ (Wrestlers are) getting their mind right before they step out there."
“One of the coolest things I’ve got to experience is that walk.”
He has the chance to make the walk a couple more times before heading off to college where he hopes to continue as a wrestler.
While their time together at Leo has not been that long, the coach and the athlete actually met several years ago.
A Herff Jones salesman, Williams was introduced to Heath when he was a toddler and around the Norwell program where Ian’s aunt was then a manager.
One day when Williams had the Heisman Trophy with him, he and Ian posed with it for a photo.
The youngster told the coach he was going to be a wrestler.
“I’d like to coach him some day,” says the coach’s reply.
All these years later, it is happening.
“Ian is a great young man,” says Williams. “It’s an honor to coach him.”