‘I am going to cherish every moment’
David Taylor hopes to lead No. 1 Penn State to another national title
For opponents, sometimes it does not seem fair. Mismatch is a commonly used word.
With a 165-pound frame that includes the wingspan of a large bird of prey, Penn State's David Taylor has been, and continues to be, one of the most dominant wrestlers the sport has seen.
It has not been perfect. There have been setbacks.
However, it does not take long and, without question, they include some of the most talked-about moments of college wrestling the last three years.
As an undefeated freshman in March 2011, the 157-pound Taylor rolled into the NCAA finals. Arizona State's Bubba Jenkins shocked everyone in Philadelphia -- and the rest of the country -- when he scored an unexpected pin, giving Taylor his only loss in 39 bouts.
A year later, in St. Louis, Taylor completed a perfect 32-0 campaign with a national championship at 165 pounds. There was little argument when he received the Hodge Trophy, collegiate wrestling's version of the Heisman Trophy.
The 2011-12 season produced a short-but-sweet rivalry with Cornell's Kyle Dake. Once word spread that Dake, a three-time NCAA champion, was moving up a weight, the hype machine overloaded. Internet message boards barely went five minutes without some sort of banter regarding who was better and who would get their hand raised on the big stage in Des Moines, Iowa.
|Dick Hutton, Oklahoma State (1947-50)|
|Pat Milkovich, Michigan State (1972-76)|
|Lee Kemp, Wisconsin (1975-78)|
|Darryl Burley, Lehigh (1979-83)|
|Ed Banach, Iowa (1980-83)|
|Duane Goldman, Iowa (1983-86)|
|Pat Smith, Oklahoma State (1990-94)|
|Lincoln McIlravy, Iowa (1993-97)|
|Mark Branch, Oklahoma State (1994-97)|
|Cael Sanderson, Iowa State (1999-2002)|
|Steve Mocco, Iowa/Oklahoma State (2002-06)|
|Ben Askren, Missouri (2004-07)|
|Jake Varner, Iowa State (2007-10)|
|Kyle Dake, Cornell (2010-13)|
Dake edged Taylor in a fantastic match in early January, and then repeated the effort with a victory against him in the NCAA finals.
Do the math and it shows only two wrestlers solving Taylor during the past three wrestling campaigns. The numbers are phenomenal.
The victory total at the Division I level is nothing spectacular; many schools' all-time wins lists show leaders with more than 150 career victories. It is the fashion in which Taylor wins that requires a double take.
Forty-seven pins. Thirty-eight technical falls. Twenty-six major decisions.
One-hundred eleven bonus-point victories.
Taylor is on track to set Penn State's school-record for pins for a career; the top-ranked Taylor has nine this season and needs seven to pass Josh Moore, who flattened 53 from 2001-04.
To open January, Taylor, 18-0 entering this weekend's duals with Indiana and Northwestern, beat the then second-ranked Tyler Caldwell by major decision in the Southern Scuffle finals.
For Taylor, the goals are simple: win a second national title and help the Nittany Lions claim a fourth consecutive team trophy.
"Everyone on this team can get better, myself included," said Taylor after his Scuffle championship. "Everything is about working toward March, working toward winning another national title.
"I set little goals for myself, but in all honesty, when it comes down to it, I have less than twenty matches left in my college career. It is going to be a sad day when I don't get to wear a Penn State singlet anymore. Until then, though, I want to make sure I wrestle as hard a can. I am going to cherish every moment."
Without question, Taylor, seeking a Master's degree in Education Administration after earning a Bachelor's this past spring, is the leader of the aesthetically pleasing, offensive-minded PSU squad.
"David Taylor is the type of student-athlete we want representing our program," PSU head coach Cael Sanderson said. "He leads by example in every way, in the classroom and by the way he works to get better every day. Our younger guys look up to him for a reason."
Taylor represents one of those rare athletes who fully live up to the hype. He went 180-2 and won four state titles for St. Paris Graham High School in Ohio, earning the prestigious Dave Schultz Excellence Award after his senior campaign. He was the nation's top recruit.
Over the summer he challenged the nation's best 163-pound freestylers at the U.S. World Team Trials, falling to Dake, but coming back to take third in the Challenge Tournament with a victory against former Iowa State star Trent Paulson. Finishing ahead of Taylor where World champion and Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs, Dake and Andrew Howe, now a senior 174-pounder for Oklahoma.
Pretty salty company.
"This is what it is about, about challenging yourself against the best," said Taylor at the time. "I have goals, obviously to win another national title, but there are also other goals down the road."
In the meantime, the rest of the country's 165-pounders have to deal with an athlete who seems to be driving 85 mph while they hover around 55.
"There really isn't a whole lot you can do," said one of Taylor's opponents who wished to remain anonymous. "If you try to open up, he'll make you pay; if you play it safe, he comes after you. I would probably rather watch him than wrestle him."
Don't tell that to Taylor, who watched his teammate, Ed Ruth, lose an 84-match win streak a half hour after his win against Caldwell at the Scuffle. It was Ruth's third career loss and first since the NCAA tournament of his freshman season.
"It's about going out and wrestling hard every time I take the mat," Taylor said. "There is a lot of good competition out there, so staying focused for every match is very important."
Only three wrestlers -- Sanderson, Pat Smith, and Dake -- have claimed four NCAA titles. Taylor will look to become the 14th four-time NCAA finalist when competition commences in Oklahoma City this March.