Before Penn State’s David Taylor was a two-time NCAA champ, Olympic champ and World champ, he was a four-time Ohio high school state winner who planned to be a Cyclone. Taylor intended to go to Iowa State, and wrestle for then-head coach Cael Sanderson in Ames, Iowa. He even signed a letter of intent to wear the Cardinal and Gold.
But then Sanderson took the head coaching job at Penn State, and Taylor followed, starting a coach-athlete relationship that has spanned over a decade and inspired great success in State College, Pennsylvania, a town that is now home to the 11-time NCAA champion Nittany Lions as well as Taylor’s youth wrestling club.
This is the David Taylor story, one that continues to grow as the Penn State legend racks up more national and international accolades on the mat.
David Taylor biography
David Taylor started his wrestling journey young. Originally born in Reno, Nevada, Taylor moved to Wyoming before he turned five, and he explained that his mom quickly signed him up for wrestling as an outlet for his energy. Though he claims he was “horrible” when he first started wrestling, Taylor stuck with the sport and started seeking out opportunities around the country that would help him improve, even as an elementary school athlete.
There can only be 1 King pic.twitter.com/lOjtVHovzo— David Taylor (@magicman_psu) September 17, 2023
By nine years old, he was traveling to Ohio to attend wrestling camps with Jeff Jordan, a notable national coach who has since mentored a number of All-Americans and NCAA champions throughout his career. Jordan’s influence was strong, and Taylor watched himself improve during his workouts in the Buckeye State. Taylor and his family then relocated to Ohio for Taylor's middle school years to enable him to continue to train under Jordan.
Taylor’s reputation as a national-caliber wrestler grew rapidly during those middle school years. By sixth grade, he was winning tournaments and pinning wrestlers who would go on to win high school state championships. He had found his rhythm.
PENN STATE WRESTLING HISTORY: Complete records and accomplishments of the Nittany Lions
Earlier in his prep career, Taylor, then just 103 pounds, made a name for himself when he won his first Ironman wrestling Tournament against Boris Novachkov, 4-3 as a freshman. Taylor would go on to win four Ironman titles, the first athlete to accomplish such a feat. His second title though came against an athlete that college wrestling fans will recognize: Logan Stieber. A fellow Ohio wrestler, Stieber dropped his Ironman championship bout that year to Taylor 7-3, though Stieber would go on to win four NCAA titles for Ohio State. Taylor and Stieber would cross paths in college, though never at the same weight, as Taylor would grow into a 157 and 165-pounder while Stieber competed at 133 and 141 pounds.
Taylor took time to grow into a middle weight though. He won his third Ironman title up at 112 pounds against Jamie Clark and notched his fourth and final tournament championship against Joe Waltko at 135 pounds, though Taylor wrestled down at 103 for three of his four high school prep titles with his fourth title coming at 112 pounds. He finished his high school career with an overall record of 180-2 while also picking up a Beast of the East tournament title at 103 pounds and two Super 32 titles at 103 and 135 poundsduring his high school years. These accolades earned Taylor the Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award, making him the top high schooler of his class, nationally.
Despite all of this success, size became an issue in Taylor’s college recruiting. He told WIN Magazine that coaches were questioning his ability to be a full-size 125-pounder. Others thought he could grow into 141. Cael Sanderson, though, then the head coach of Iowa State, saw Taylor and believed he could be bigger and stronger. Taylor explained to WIN Magazine that Sanderson saw the young star as a 157-pounder or bigger. That vision excited Taylor.
He committed to wrestle for Sanderson and the Cyclones.
By spring of 2009, though, Taylor’s last year as a high school student, Sanderson shocked the wrestling world when he announced that he would be taking over the Penn State wrestling program, leaving his alma mater in Iowa State and heading east. Taylor wanted to follow him, but the logistics of that move proved challenging, as Iowa State didn’t want Taylor to decommit. Taylor explained in a video with FloWrestling that the Iowa State administration initially dragged its feet in allowing Taylor to take his commitment elsewhere, but the incoming Cyclone head coach, Kevin Jackson, elected to release Taylor and allow him to move to Penn State to train with Sanderson.
Taylor would go on to define and epitomize the success of Penn State wrestling during his five collegiate years with the Blue and White, and his influence and leadership remains strong in State College to this day.
The college years
Redshirt year (2009-2010)
Despite being the highest-touted recruit in his class, Taylor found tough partners almost immediately when he got to State College. His teammate (and brother of his head coach) Cyler Sanderson, in fact, proved to be an early competitor for Taylor, as Cyler topped the Ohio high school star 11-4 in an early-season intersquad bout at 157 pounds and then beat Taylor again in the Nittany Lion Open finals in early December.
Sanderson, a fifth-year senior at the time, would hold down the 157-pound weight class for the 2009-2010 season and finish sixth in the country while Taylor would take a redshirt and prepare for his varsity debut the following season. While redshirting, Taylor accumulated a 21-2 record at 157 pounds, winning the W&J Open, the Mat-Town Open, and the National Collegiate Open during this period.
Taylor’s work ethic and attitude in the room made an immediate impression on his coach and his teammates, and he was praised by both during that rookie year. Head coach Cael Sanderson, in particular, told The Daily Collegian that he appreciated Taylor’s “tough mentality,” calling him a “special kid” who is a “great example” for others in the wrestling room.
While excitement grew around David Taylor and his young teammates, drama started to surround the Penn State program midway through that same season. In December 2009, Penn State NCAA finalist middleweight Bubba Jenkins announced that he would be leaving the team under the order of Cael Sanderson. Jenkins explained that he purposely failed his classes to ensure that he could take a redshirt during that 2009-2010 season with the intention of coming back and wrestling at 157 pounds the following year. This did not sit well with Sanderson. Jenkins told Onward State that Sanderson “didn’t see the value in me staying another year when he had his guys: his brother and David Taylor around my weight who he wanted to compete at the level.” Though Jenkins acknowledges that his “immaturity” played a role in Sanderson cutting ties with the Nittany Lion wrestler, the news surrounding Jenkins' departure and eventual transfer to Arizona State created intrigue around his future performance against guys like Taylor who were being hailed as the future of Penn State wrestling.
Freshman year (2010-2011)
After sitting in redshirt for a year, Taylor found early success in his first year in the varsity lineup, and his performances quickly put him on the radar as a title contender at 157 pounds. He had taken the previous season to grow and learn, and now Taylor was ready to show the world what he could do.
He started by dominating his own teammates.
Taylor won his intersquad match in November against James Vollrath at 157 pounds by fall and then bonused his next nine opponents, pinning three of them. His first decision win of the year came in the finals of the Nittany Lion Open against Jesse Dong, and that match would remain Taylor’s only non-bonus win of the regular season. The Nittany Lions, as a team, would finish the season 13-1-1, their lone loss coming against the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Head coach Cael Sanderson though would enact revenge on Iowa, bringing home a team championship at the NCAA tournament. Taylor, for his part, took second at that national tournament, losing by fall to none other than Bubba Jenkins, the former Nittany Lion who transferred to Arizona State the previous season. The loss to Jenkins was the only L Taylor would take this opening season, but it also motivated the Nittany Lion. He would go on to transform himself into an even more dominant college wrestler, one who roared through every one the following season.
Complete freshman year results:
- W —Frank Hickman Bloomsburg (TF, 20-5, 5:00)
- W —Sean Bilodeau Lehigh (FALL: 3:33)
- W —Walter Peppelman Harvard (MD, 15-4)
- W —Ryan Goodman West Virginia (FALL: 4:55)
- W —Daryl Cocozzo, Rutgers (MD, 13-3)
- W —Dylan Caprio, Lock Haven (FALL, 2:08)
- W —Nicholas Visicaro, Rutgers (MD, 20-8)
- W — Zach Clemente, Hofstra (TF, 18-3, 6:58)
- W —Mark Lewandowski, Buffalo (MD, 17-6)
- W —James Vollrath, Penn State (MD, 12-0)
- W —Jesse Dong, Unattached-Virginia Tech (D, 9-3)
- W —Seth Creasy, Lock Haven (TF, 19-4, 6:27)
- W —Colt Sponseller Ohio State, (MD, 14-1)
- W —Bradley Wukie, Penn (FALL, 2:37)
- W —Alex Elder, Oregon State (TF, 18-2, 5:26)
- W —Joseph Grygelko, Minnesota (TF, 20-5, 4:52)
- W —Kyle Kiss, North Carolina (FALL, 1:18)
- W —Brandon Zeerip, Michigan (TF, 23-6, 6:15)
- W — Paul Young, Indiana (TF, 18-2, 4:06)
- W —Nick Emison, VMI (FALL, 2:27)
- W —Josh Greisheimer, Edinoboro, (MD, 25-12)
- W —Matt Cathell Kent State (TF, 19-4, 4:40)
- W —Aaron Hynes, Michigan (TF, 19-4, 4:53)
- W —Donnie Tasser, Pittsburgh (TF, 26-11)
- W —Paul Young, Indiana (MD, 14-3)
- W —Derek St. John, Iowa (MD, 12-4)
- W — Sean McMurray Michigan State (TF, 20-5, 6:23)
- W —Brandon Zeerip, Michigan, (FALL, 1:01)
- W —Jackson Morse, Illinois (TF, 26-10, 6:21)
- W —Matt Mincey Minnesota (TF, 16-1, 6:15)
- W —Kalvin York, Wisconsin (TF, 18-2, 4:57)
Big Ten Tournament
W — Matt Mincey, Minnesota (FALL, 2:07)
W —Paul Young , Indiana (MD, 18-4)
W —Derek St. John, Iowa (D, 8-3)
W — Neil Erisman, Oklahoma State (MD, 13-2)
W — David Bonin, Northern Iowa (TF, 20-5)
W — Derek St. John, Iowa (D, 6-3)
W —Steven Fittery, American (D, 7-1)
L — Bubba Jenkins, Arizona State (FALL, 4:14)
Sophomore year (2011-2012)
Sophomore David Taylor was unstoppable. Literally. Up at 165 pounds, Taylor ended the first six matches of his second varsity season before the third period, only to be slowed, ever so slightly, by Brandon Hatchett of Lehigh. Taylor beat Hatchett 8-5, despite a formidable offense from the Mountain Hawk. That match served as closest match of the season, though Mike Evans of Iowa would later also hold Taylor to a 9-4 decision in the Penn State-Iowa dual.
At the conference championships in March of 2012, Taylor did Taylor things, bonusing everyone in his path and picking up his second Big Ten title. All signs pointed to Taylor finally capturing the NCAA crown that eluded him last year. With a team title for the Nittany Lions on the line as well, Taylor went on a pinning spree at nationals. He won by fall against Corey Lear, Brandon Wright, Robert Kokesh and Bekzod Abdurakhmanov before majoring Brandon Hatchett and putting up 22 points against the Mountain Hawk. David Taylor was a national champ, and his performance also made him an easy choice for the Hodge Trophy winner.
The trophy case in Happy Valley was filling up fast.
Complete sophomore season results:
- W —Kevin Hartnett, Bloomsburg (FALL, 2:21)
- W —Cody Yohn of Minnesota (TF, 16-1, 4:29)
- W —Ross Renzi, West Virginia (FALL, 3:12)
- W —Kyle Czarnecki, Boston (WBF, 2:33)
- W —Joseph Favia, Stevens Tech, (FALL, 1:48)
- W —Peter Yates, Virginia Tech, (FALL, 4:40)
- W —Brandon Hatchett, Lehigh (W, 8-5)
- W —Kyle Eason, West Virginia, (TF, 22-7, 4:17)
- W —Seth Creasy, Lock Haven, (TF, 21-5, 3:21)
- W —Justin Guthrie, Gardner Webb (FALL, 1:54)
- W —Tristan Warner, Old Dominion, (TF, 21-6)
- W —John Staudenmayer, North Carolina, (FALL, 2:13)
- W —Kyle Blevins, Appalachian State, (MD, 12-3)
- W —Cody Yohn, Minnesota, (FALL, 2:36)
- W —David Cheza, Michigan State, (MD, 13-5)
- W —Pierce Harger, Northwestern, (TF, 20-5, 5:37)
- W —Alex Yde, Wisconsin, (FALL, 2:28)
- W —Mike Evans, Iowa, (W 9-4)
- W —Derek Garcia, Ohio State, (TF, 18-3, 6:20)
- W —Robert Kokesh, Nebraska, (MD, 13-3)
- W —Dan Yates, Michigan (TF, 15-0)
- W —Ethan Smith, Utah Valley (FALL, 2:40)
- W —Tyler Wilps, Pittsburgh, (MD, 20-9)
Big Ten Tournament
W —Derek Garcia, Ohio State (TF, 20-5)
W —Pierce Harger, Northwestern (FALL, 1:40)
W —Conrad Polz, Illinois (MD, 12-0)
W —Mike Evans, Iowa (MD, 11-2)
W —Corey Lear, Bucknell (FALL, 1:40)
W —Brandon Wright, UT-Chattanooga (FALL, 1:52)
W —Robert Kokesh, Nebraska (FALL, :30)
W —Bekzod Abdurakhmanov, Clarion (FALL, 4:44)
W —Brandon Hatchett, Lehigh (MD, 22-7)
Junior Year (2012-2013)
With a Hodge Trophy in his hand from the previous year, David Taylor had cemented his reputation as one of the most dominant, dangerous wrestlers in the NCAA. The problem was, there was another national champion interested in taking that title away from him. Enter Kyle Dake. The three-time NCAA title winner from Cornell entered the 165-pound weight class in 2012 fresh off national championship wins at 141, 149 and 157 pounds. No wrestler had ever won four national titles at four different weights in four years, but Dake wanted to be that guy, even if it meant topping the returning Hodge Trophy winner David Taylor.
With Taylor in the Big Ten and Dake in the Ivy League, these two weren’t scheduled to meet, officially, during the conference dual season, but fans wanted to see the match immediately. Both wrestlers agreed to thus compete in the NWCA All-Star Classic on November 2 as part of an exhibition match in advance of the season. It was a showcase that would offer a glimpse into a rivalry about to be born. The match proved low-scoring, with Dake squeezing out a 2-1 win in overtime, but it was the first of three meetings for these two this year, with the second one coming at the Southern Scuffle when Dake beat Taylor 3-2, delivering the Nittany Lion just his second career loss.
Dake and Taylor tackled their remaining competition that year with ease, setting up a meeting in the national finals. This was the match, this was the moment. Taylor wanted to stop the three-time champ from making history, and Dake wanted another win over the returning Hodge Trophy winner. The stakes were high. But this match belonged to Dake. Taylor did come out fast, earning the first takedown, but Dake’s patience and composure helped him regain control. He earned a takedown at the end of the first period to take the lead 3-2 and then extended his 4-2 lead following an escape in the second period. Despite two stall calls against Dake and an escape from Taylor, the Big Red senior notched the win on riding time. He was a four-time champ and a Hodge Trophy winner, taking the honor away from Taylor and leaving the Penn State star wanting more.
Complete junior season results:
- W — Eric Hess, Lehigh (TF, 20-5, 5:46)
- W —Dominic Prezzia West Virginia (TF, 20-5, 6:04)
- W —Michael Harper, The Citadel (FALL, 4:05)
- W —Russ Benner, Unattached-Hofstra (FALL, 3:29)
- W — Bobby Nash, Michigan State (TF, 23-6, 5:20)
- W —Corey Mock, North Carolina (TF, 17-2, 6:06)
- W —Mark Lewandowski, Buffalo (FALL, 5:42)
- W —Ryan LeBlanc, Indiana, (MD, 8-0)
- W —Aaron McKinney, Lock Haven (FALL, 4:41)
- W —Jesse Stafford, Air Force (TF, 22-7)
- W — Parker Madl, Arizona State (FALL, 1:31)
- W —Paul Hancock, Army (FALL, 4:39)
- W — Tyler Caldwell, Oklahoma State (MD, 10-0)
- L — Kyle Dake, Cornell (D, 3-2)
- W —Nick Proctor, Michigan State (FALL, 1:37)
- W —Frank Cousins, Wisconsin (TF, 25-7, 6:22)
- W —Doug Welch, Purdue (FALL, 2:41)
- W —Tyler Koehn, Nebraska (TF, 16-1, 5:09)
- W —Nick Moore, Iowa (TF; 6:42)
- W —Conrad Polz, Illinois (D, 14-7)
- W —Tyler Wilps, Pittsburgh (MD, 20-6)
- W —Mark Martin, Ohio State (FALL, 2:55)
- W —Ramon Santiago, Rider (FALL, 3:48)
- W — Nick Visicaro, Rutgers, (MD, 14-6)
Big Ten Tournament
W — Mark Martin, Ohio State (TF, 20-5, 5:44)
W —Nick Moore, Iowa (15-0, 2:37)
W —Conrad Polz, Illinois (MD, 9-1)
W — John Staudenmayer, North Carolina (FALL, 2:52)
W — Zachary Strickland, Appalachian State (FALL, 2:42)
W — Conrad Polz, Illinois (FALL, :24)
W — Peter Yates, Virginia Tech (FALL, 3:25)
L — Kyle Dake, Cornell (5-4)
Senior Year (2013-2014)
As David Taylor geared up for his final year in a Penn State singlet, the attention, focus and hype surrounding the national champ grew and grew. His bonus rates were legendary, his focus and fierceness unmatched. NCAA.com described David Taylor as “an athlete who seems to be driving 85 mph while [the rest of the country] hover[s] around 55.” The start of the season lived up expectations, as Taylor pinned in first two opponents, teched his next one, and then pinned three more. He maintained a 100% bonus rate through his first 24 matches before Oklahoma State’s Tyler Caldwell, a familiar foe, held Taylor to just five points. Taylor had majored Caldwell earlier in the season, but, this time, the Cowboy was ready. Taylor earned the win and then put an exclamation mark on the regular season with a first-period fall against Michael Pavasko of Clarion.
The postseason was Taylor’s victory lap. He dominated the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament, picking up his second Hodge Trophy in the process.
This is the foundation that led to David Taylor, the Olympic wrestler and David Taylor the World Champion. He's a winner, and he's found a way to do so at every level.
Complete senior season results:
- W — Colin Navickas, Stevens Tech (FALL, 1:13)
- W — Vincent Grella, Binghamton (FALL, 2:00)
- W — Aaron McKinney, Lock Haven (FALL, 2:41)
- W — Nick Visicaro, Rutgers (TF, 18-2)
- W — Craig Eifert, Cornell (FALL, 1:51)
- W — Ramon Santiago, Rider (FALL, 4:27)
- W — Brian Brill, Lehigh (MD, 20-7)
- W — Jacob Kemerer, Lock Haven (FALL, 6:09)
- W — Mitchell Wightman, Boston (TF, 21-5, 6:57)
- W — Geno Morelli, Pittsburgh (FALL, 3:09)
- W — Joe Grandominico, Ohio State (TF, 20-5)
- W — Nick Moore, Iowa (MD, 12-3)
- W — Mitchell Wightman, Boston (TF, 21-5, 5:24)
- W — Jesse Stafford, Air Force (FALL, 1:48)
- W — Tyler Caldwell, Oklahoma State (MD, 9-1)
- W — Dylan Palacio, Cornell (MD, 17-6)
- W — Zach Toal, Missouri (FALL, 5:00)
- W — Chad Welch, Purdue (FALL, 2:23)
- W — Ryan LeBlanc, Indiana (TF, 15-0)
- W — Pierce Harger, Northwestern (TF, 17-2, 4:47)
- W — Jackson Morse, Illinois (MD, 11-3)
- — Robert Nash, Michigan State (FALL, 1:53)
- W — Daniel Yates, Michigan (TF, 17-2, 5:14)
- W — Daniel Zilverberg, Minnesota (MD, 13-3)
- W — Tyler Caldwell, Oklahoma State (D, 5-2)
- W — Michael Pavasko, Clarion (FALL, :11)
Big Ten Tournament
W — Austin Wilson, Nebraska (TF, 22-4)
W — Jackson Morse, Illinois (FALL, :40)
W — Nick Moore, Iowa (MD, 14-5)
W - Joe Brewster, South Dakota State (FALL, 2:59)
W - Jim Wilson, Stanford (FALL, 6:55)
W - Michael Moreno, Iowa State (FALL, 3:19)
W - Steven Monk, North Dakota State (MD, 13-5)
W - Tyler Caldwell, Oklahoma State (D, 6-0)
Penn State Records
- Career Tech Falls — 42
- Season Tech Falls — 15
- Career Bonus Wins — 125
- Career Bonus Win Percentage — 91.2%
- Season Bonus Wins — 34