The best way cousins Gunner and Evan Loughman communicate is through text message.
Gunner — a Heath senior — and Evan — a Sheridan sophomore –occasionally practice together, but they rarely have competed at the same time in the same place — until this weekend.
It was a bit of a family reunion at the state tournament for the Loughmans. Gunner qualified in Division III at 195 pounds and Evan in Division II at heavyweight. As news trickled in that each had escaped the district tournament with a runner-up finish, they knew they finally would be crossing paths.
It certainly is appropriate Gunner took his final step on the mat as Evan’s career seemingly is just starting. When Gunner was a freshman, it was he who influenced Evan to give the sport a shot.
Did Evan ever. He won the Muskingum Valley League, sectional and district titles, then finished 1-2 in the state tournament.
“I really got into wrestling because of him,” Evan said. “He would always talk about it, and it sounded like fun. I have gotten a lot more out of it than I originally anticipated.
“I do football and track. Football has been my favorite, but I am really starting to enjoy wrestling.”
Gunner began his career with hopes of joining the older Bulldogs at the state tournament — and if he dared dream — on the podium. Ahead of him was four-time All-Ohioan Dom Barlow and All-Ohioan Travis Drumm, who was in his corner this weekend.
Gunner had a solid junior season and only had lost a handful of times this season. Still, it seemed as if he was an underdog. The area qualified seven wrestlers at 182 or 195 to the state tournament. Loughman’s district victory against Johnstown’s Clayton Bullard helped punch his ticket.
Now, Gunner can be that inspiration for young group of Bulldogs, led by sophomore Isaiah Young, who fell a win short of the state tournament.
“We didn’t have the numbers, but the few kids we did have had the desire to get better,” Gunner said. “We had sickness this year and injuries that just kind of broke us down at the end of the year.”
He is an inspiration to Evan, too. Evan is pushing his way onto a crowded list of top Sheridan big men. The Generals had a school-record six district placers and won five team championships, including the MVL and sectional titles.
Adding Evan to R.J. Waugh and Darren Scott, the Generals had state qualifiers at the three highest weights. It made Sheridan an obvious practice destination for Gunner.
“In the postseason, I have been going to Sheridan to work with them,” Gunner said. “It is always nice to have that competitive atmosphere. It only makes you better.”
The Loughmans rarely get on the mat together in a competitive setting. Evan joked he didn’t want to hurt his “smaller” big cousin.
The Loughmans do occasionally exchange trash talk.
“He gets pretty angry when I start to compare,” Evan said. “He says: ‘It’s heavyweight. You just wrestle a bunch of puds.'”
Gunner had the better state tournament. While Evan lost in overtime in his second consolation match, Gunner won to ensure an All-Ohio finish, placing eighth.
Gunner expects Evan to match him in the coming years. It would only be right Evan continues to follow in Gunner’s footsteps.
“It is definitely nice especially because he is so young,” Gunner said. “He has so much time left. He is getting to do this now, and it is definitely going to help him.”