The talented captain of the Saint Ignatius wrestling program is headed to the next level.
Johnny Novak has committed to Lourdes University.
Novak announced his decision on Monday afternoon after a lengthy process. The senior received significant interest from several local schools, but the private Franciscan university in Sylvania, Ohio captivated him the most.
"I made the decision after lots of praying and thinking," said Novak. "I talked through the decision with my parents and friends. I liked the coaches, they're a good group of guys. I know some of the guys on the team, too. I heard nothing but good things about Lourdes."
Over the course of his four years at Saint Ignatius, Novak left his mark. The hard-working, bright young man developed into a great wrestler, leader, teammate, and student.
Novak entered Saint Ignatius as a relative unknown. The Old Brooklyn native always knew he wanted to be a Wildcat, as his dad, John '98, attended Saint Ignatius. But the younger Novak felt like he had lots to prove, as he was undersized and unheralded.
But Novak quickly caught the eyes of the coaching staff.
After advancing to the District Tournament to end a promising freshman campaign, Novak got to work to prepare for his sophomore season. With some help from veterans Patrick McGraw '19 and DJ Huff '19, Novak developed a great work ethic.
Novak made a leap in his sophomore season, and made even larger strides in his junior year. Novak rolled all the way to the OHSAA Division I State Wrestling Tournament in 2019. At 106 pounds, Novak captured seventh place for a nice end to the year. Novak finished the year with a 41-10 record, tallying 61 nearfalls, 20 escapes, 15 reversals, 8 tech falls, 12 decisions, and a team-high 227 team points.
"Johnny came into his own during his junior year," said head coach Mark Sullivan. "He was ranked in the state all year. At the end of the year, he did extra work with Coach Armstrong and Coach Bathurst. Working with those two elevated his big match ability. Coach Polick runs the hard, tedious drilling sessions during practice. They can be arduous and long, it can be hard to be disciplined for an hour straight, though Polick does an excellent job. But Johnny bought in, listened to the drills, and did all of them. He became disciplined from the hard mental work with the repetition."
As a senior, Novak found himself in an important role as a team captain. After learning from Huff and McGraw, Novak took the responsibility seriously.
"It was cool to be a captain," Novak said. "All of the little guys [in the Wildcat Wrestling Club] looked up to me and gave me hi-fives. I wanted to do everything I could to help them, and to help convince them to come to Ignatius. Overall, I just tried to be a good person in general. Good things are created through good relationships."
Novak also enjoyed plenty of success on the mats. As one of the best grapplers on the squad, Novak led the Wildcats in several categories – team points (165.5), wins (29), and pins (16).
As Sullivan said, Novak showcased wonderful leadership skills and how to work hard everyday.
"It's not about Johnny, it's about his body of work. He's led a team this year as a senior through example, hard work, and perserverance through injuries," said Sullivan. "He continued to work hard and show up every day. He always worked with our youth team, and was always willing to give time with a freshman or sophomore who needed extra help. The team reflected that, and we had an interesting group of guys. Evan Arko, a tall and slender kid who used every bit of his athleticism to grind every match. Tommy Buckles realized that Johnny is a good worker, and that helped him become better, as Tommy emulated him and worked hard. Josh Dinya always showed up and worked hard with discipline, and helped to push Johnny. And Ethan Tomford, a very smart kid who's an intellectual entrepreneur. Johnny made a big impact on all of them, and our younger guys."
Before the 2019-20 season was prematurely ended, Novak made the state tournament again, this time as an alternate.
"Hard work really does pay off," Novak said. "Coming from a nobody to someone, all of the hard work paid off for me. That's my lesson for the younger guys."
Beyond Johnny's success on the mats, the Novaks were a banner Saint Ignatius family. They are wonderful people, always so supportive of the wrestling program and the school.
"I love the Novak family," Sullivan said. "His mom, dad, brother, and cousins are all great. They're very supportive of the whole team, and at every event. The Novak family has been a great addition to the program. The most important thing is the strong bond that they share, and Johnny's loyalty to his family."
With the nationwide COVID-19 outbreak, Novak's recruitment process looked different than he might have expected. He still had plenty of interest from nine schools, from a mix of Division I, Division II, Division III, and NAIA schools. But he was not able to get a true feel for each place with all campuses shut down.
In lieu of a full visit of Lourdes, Novak and his family drove around the campus last Friday. Novak got a sense of the Franciscan campus, which he liked a lot. He loved the look and feel of the NAIA university, which hosts about 1,450 students.
The Gray Wolves are an up-and-coming program after originating in 2015. Lourdes has enjoyed some success, and entered the preseason rankings as the No. 11 team in the NAIA. The Gray Wolves have another cornerstone in Novak.
At Lourdes, Novak plans to major in exercise science. Novak hopes to build a successful career either as an athletic trainer or as a strength and conditioning coach. His career choice was inspired by the Wildcats' Director of Strength & Conditioning, Anthony Rubino.
"Coach Rubino helped me a lot. Watching him do what he does is great. I really enjoyed working with him and learning from him. He's been a great role model," Novak said. "I love being around athletes and sports. I like working out and being physically fit, so I figured I'd try to make a career of it."
As he's proven at Saint Ignatius, including with his solid 3.25 GPA, Novak has a bright future ahead of him.
"Johnny emulates the school's Men for Others philosophy," Sullivan said. "He always responds immediately and he's always there when you need him. I asked him to be a leader and do extra stuff I asked him to do, and he always went above and beyond."
Before he heads to Lourdes, Novak has some folks to thank.
"Thank you to coaches, past and present teammates, and my family for pushing me," Novak said. "All of you helped me to where I am today."
If you haven't already done so, be sure to read the open letter that Johnny wrote to the Saint Ignatius community a few weeks ago. It's well worth the read. Johnny is a great young man with a limitless future.