Not to be forgotten
Penn State's Ruth, Taylor head into final collegiate weekend in OKC
Some have shown up, had moments of glory and remain local legends. Among collegiate wrestling fans, there is always the: “Do you remember so-and-so?”
Others throughout the history of collegiate wrestling have left a much larger legacy and will be remembered by more than just the hardcore wrestling junky.
David Taylor and Ed Ruth.
Those two names will not be soon forgotten, especially by Penn State fans. Both will conclude their college mat careers this week at the 2014 NCAA Wrestling Championships in Oklahoma City. The duo has been part of four Big Ten Championship squads, three NCAA Championship teams, and an unbelievable level of domination.
Consider this: The two have a combined record of 260-6, 95 pins and 222 bonus-point victories.
There is very little left to be said about the duo. Much of it will be reserved for Saturday evening. In the meantime, coaches and athletes, take nothing for granted.
“You’ve got to beat five guys,” said Taylor, who is 29-0 entering Thursday. “Whoever that is in front of you, you never know what can happen, who you're going to wrestle. You can’t really look forward to it. All you can look forward to is the first round and when you win, you go to the next round.”
Earlier this season, after beating Oklahoma State's Tyler Caldwell for the Southern Scuffle title, Taylor talked about cherishing every moment of his final collegiate season.
“It’s been an incredible experience,” Taylor said. “It’s hard to imagine not putting on a Penn State singlet. The national tournament is going to be an emotional week.”
After winning four state titles in Ohio and earning the prestigious Dave Schultz Excellence Award, the Taylor hype-train did not miss a beat. He was 38-1 as a redshirt-freshman with one of those moments that put Bubba Jenkins in the local legend category. His second year at State College saw a 32-0 mark, a national title, and the Hodge Trophy, wrestling's version of the Heisman Trophy.
There were two losses as a junior, both coming to one of the best in history – Cornell’s Kyle Dake. The second loss was in the NCAA finals.
As a senior, Taylor has kept that train rolling. Only once in twenty-nine bouts has the PSU 165-pounder failed to record bonus points. With three pins in Oklahoma City, Taylor would tie a school record.
Four-time NCAA finalists are rare. Only fourteen have accomplished the feat since freshmen were eligible to compete in 1970. Following World War II there was a brief period where freshman could compete, allowing Oklahoma A&M's Dick Hutton to wrestle in the 1947 finals as a rookie.
“David Taylor has set a standard and a level of leadership that we want representing Penn State,” Sanderson said. “He takes nothing for granted, works hard every day in everything he does.”
Equally as dynamic, but perhaps a bit more aloof, Ruth has been equally dominant.
As a freshman, he finished 38-2 and third at the 2011 NCAA Championships. Following a loss in the quarterfinals, the Harrisburg, Pa., product reeled off 84-consecutive wins during a run that included two consecutive national titles. He is 131-3 for his career with forty-five pins.
When action begins Thursday, Ruth takes a 29-1 mark into the tournament. He is seeded second behind Maryland senior Jimmy Sheptock (28-0) and is on the same side of the bracket as Northern Iowa veteran Ryan Loder and Cornell's Gabe Dean, a freshman who stunned Ruth in the Southern Scuffle finals in January and ended the win streak.
During a press conference last Friday, Sanderson summed up Ed Ruth.
“Ed is Ed,” he said.
At times, there has been green hair. Some of his post-match interviews have included a more philosophical approach than the usual “wrestle-hard-for-seven-minutes” answer.
When asked about the final few weeks of his career after winning his fourth Big Ten title, Ruth said: “I don’t feel that emotional about it, more proud than emotional … proud is actually an emotion … I feel happy because I don’t feel like there is anything that I did not leave out there on the mat.”
Like Penn State’s Senior Day at Rec Hall earlier this month, this Saturday night in Oklahoma City will include plenty of emotion.
“When Ed was getting called (to the mat), I started crying, I have to be honest,” Taylor said. “I had a tear in my eye and was thinking back to what Penn State has been able to accomplish in the last four years and what Ed and I have been able to do the last four years and how we ended up on the same team.
“We’ve done some great things. There was a lot of emotion building up when he went out with his mom.”
Taylor and Ruth have not won four straight Big Ten titles and three consecutive NCAA titles singlehandedly. Quentin Wright played a big role, as did Frank Molinaro, Nico Megaludis, and others have certainly contributed. But at the center of this wrestling resurgence in State College has been two who will say good bye on Saturday.
There are opposing fans who will boo. Some will want to see every Nittany Lion lose. However, if there is any fiber to the college wrestling community, what they will do on Saturday is honor two young men – win or lose – who have stamped their legacy for years to come.