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Penn State freshman David Taylor taking college wrestling world by storm

Penn State freshman David Taylor is off to a blazing start at 157 pounds. He’s scored bonus points in 22 of his 23 wins. Photo courtesy of Penn State University.

When Penn State coach Cael Sanderson sits in the corner for one of David Taylor’s matches, he knows what is about to happen.

“David’s going to put on a show,” Sanderson said. “He’s a lot of fun to watch. He brings a lot of energy and fire. His conditioning is fantastic. Seven minutes is nothing for him. He creates a lot of action and he wrestles hard for every second.”

If that description sounds strikingly similar to someone whose college career began 12 years ago, it does exactly that.

Like Sanderson did as an Iowa State freshman during the 1998-99 season, Taylor has taken the college wrestling world by storm as a redshirt freshman.

It’s a bit premature to start making comparisons to the legendary Sanderson, who went 159-0 and won four NCAA titles in college, but what Taylor has done so far this season is nothing short of impressive.

Taylor is 23-0 and ranked No. 2 nationally at 157 pounds for the Nittany Lions. He’s been destroying the competition. He’s scored bonus points in 22 of his 23 matches. He’s won six matches by fall, nine by technical fall and seven by major decision.

His closest match was a 9-3 win over Virginia Tech’s Jesse Dong, who has been ranked as high as No. 5 nationally.

“I’ve always wrestled a real aggressive style,” Taylor said. “I want to come out strong right away and put flurries together. A lot of guys don’t want to wrestle a hard pace. I want to create a lot of scoring opportunities.”

Taylor is one of the top young stars in a loaded Penn State lineup. The Nittany Lions have jumped to No. 2 in the national rankings in Sanderson’s second year in Happy Valley.

“It’s been so exciting to be a part of what we are doing at Penn State,” Taylor said. “There is something pretty special going on here. We have a great environment to wrestle in. It’s a dream come true for me. This is just the beginning. We have so much we want to accomplish. It’s hard to put into words what it means to be a part of this program.”

Taylor came out of high school with the same type of pedigree as Sanderson. He won four state titles for St. Paris Graham High School in Ohio. He was named National High School Wrestler of the Year.

He won Junior Nationals and Cadet Nationals. He made the U.S. Junior World Team in freestyle. He won University Nationals last year.

Taylor initially signed a letter of intent to wrestle for Sanderson at Iowa State, but he never wrestled for the Cyclones. When Sanderson left Iowa State to take over the Penn State program in the spring of 2009, Taylor decided to follow Sanderson to Pennsylvania.

“It was tough for me at first, when I heard Cael was leaving Iowa State,” Taylor said. “I only had a month and a half left of high school, and then all of a sudden I had no idea what I was going to do. (Iowa State coach) Kevin Jackson is a great guy and a great coach. But I was going to Iowa State for one reason and that was Cael Sanderson. Luckily, everything worked out.”

Taylor went 21-2 in open tournaments during his redshirt season for Penn State, but the transition from high school to college wasn’t as smooth as you might think.

“When David first came to Penn State, he was getting thumped by some people in the room on a regular basis,” Sanderson said. “He wrestled 135 as a senior and when he came to Penn State he was weighing in the 160s. He was wrestling some big strong kids and he was adjusting to that. He’s really come a long way. He will continue to improve until the day he’s done wrestling because of how hard he works and the attitude he brings. He holds himself to a very high standard.”

The 5-foot-11 Taylor may still be growing. He won two Ohio state titles at 103 pounds and one at 112 before winning state as a senior at 135. He competed at 74 kg/163 lbs. this past season in freestyle.

“The redshirt year at Penn State was huge for me,” Taylor said. “I kept working and I started adjusting to wrestling some of the bigger guys. I would have struggled if they would’ve put me in the lineup as a true freshman. I improved a lot when I redshirted. That year was real important for me.”

Taylor has set a high standard with his early performances in college.

“David has a real natural feel for folkstyle because he’s a great scrambler,” Sanderson said. “He’s very good in all three positions. He’s not afraid to make a mistake. It takes a lot of confidence to wrestle like that.”

Taylor first met Sanderson when he was a young kid who had just started to wrestle in Wyoming. He then followed Sanderson as he excelled in college and internationally.

“I idolized Cael,” Taylor said. “I have always tried to wrestle a real aggressive style like he did. When he started recruiting me, it was a no-brainer. I wanted to wrestle for him. He’s someone I want to be like, on and off the mat. He’s a phenomenal person. I made the best decision possible by wrestling for him.”

Sanderson was asked about the comparisons between himself and Taylor at this stage of their careers.

“David’s not worried about his record right now,” Sanderson said. “We just want him to keep progressing and continue to improve. He wants to be the best. He’s been in the spotlight since he was a little kid. He loves wrestling and the big thing for him is to just keep having fun. He is no stranger to expectations. He has great poise. He has the qualities to be one of the greats.”

Like Sanderson, Taylor has set some lofty goals.

“My goal is to be a four-time state champ, four-time national champ and Olympic champ,” Taylor said. “I had those goals when I was eight years old. I was dreaming like that. My dad told me, ‘If there is something you want, just put your mind to it.’ I only have 16 matches left to be a national champion. I just have to execute and take every match one at a time.”

Taylor has excelled in USA Wrestling events since he first started competing in the age-group events. He won a USA Wrestling Triple Crown in the Midget division at 60 pounds in 2000.

“I’ve always wrestled the best competition that I can,” he said. “Going to Fargo and wrestling in big events like that, you can’t beat it.”

Taylor wrestled at the Junior World Championships in 2007 in Beijing, China. He competed in the same venue where the Olympic Games were held a year later. He went 1-1 at the Junior Worlds and finished eighth at 110 pounds.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “Going overseas and wrestling in Beijing, you learn so much. It’s going to help me down the road. My dream is to win an Olympic title.”

Taylor is considered one of the top young freestyle prospects in the U.S.

“David’s goal is to be World and Olympic champion,” Sanderson said. “He’s working with the mentality and urgency it takes to be an Olympic champion. He’s definitely on track. He’s very good in freestyle. He has a great mind. He will do what it takes to get to the level he needs to be at to win the Olympics.”
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