Growing Experience for Penn State’s David Taylor

By Mike Finn

One reason David Taylor chose to follow Cael Sanderson to Penn State dated back to when he literally hung around the sport’s only four-time undefeated national champion when both lived near Sanderson’s home in Utah.

Penn State freshman David Taylor has moved up to No. 3 in WIN's national rankings at 157 pounds

“I used to go over and watch them and his dad was one of my first coaches,” said Taylor, recalling when Cael Sanderson returned home from Iowa State during a Christmas break. “I was the little kid who used to jump on his back.”

Now a days, Taylor might have a more difficult time being toted around by his current college coach considering Taylor is starting as a redshirt freshman at 157 pounds for the Nittany Lions.

But in many people’s minds, Taylor is still a little guy … so little that three of his four Ohio state championships came at 103 (2006-07) and 112 pounds (2008) for St. Paris (Ohio) Graham High School after his father (whose first name is also Dave), a pilot for Delta Airlines, transferred from Salt Lake City to Cincinnati. It wasn’t until his senior year that the former Falcon finally showed a growth spurt when he completed his prep career with a state title at 135.

“When I was being recruited, there were a lot of people questioning whether I’d be big enough to be a 125 pounder because I was still a 112-pounder at the time. I was still a pretty skinny little kid,” said Taylor, who eventually compiled a 180-2 career mark and was a two-time first-team ASICS All-American while receiving the prestigious Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award. He also won three Cadet and two Junior National championships in freestyle during his high school years.

By that time, Taylor knew he’d also be wrestling for Sanderson, committing first to wrestle at Iowa State before following the former Cyclone to Happy Valley

“Some people were recruiting me for 141 pounds, but at the same time Cael was saying I’d be a 157-pounder and possibly go up to 165 pounds or 174,” Taylor said. “It’s funny how he knew how big I could get.

Their shared background also helped.

“I had known him for a long time,” Taylor said. “Back when I was a little kid, he knew my dad, who is about 6-foot-2 and must have known that I would follow the growth pattern of my dad.

“I also always had broad shoulders. There were some people who kept reminding me that I was going to get big, but they didn’t know when it would actually happen. One day, I was 20 pounds heavier. When I got to Penn State, I was about 150-155. This summer I got up to where I was 175.”

While redshirting as a true freshman in 2009-10, Taylor finished 21-2. This season, Taylor was 12-0 prior to PSU’s Big Ten opener against Ohio State, which featured Colt Sponseller as Taylor’s opponent … and someone Taylor once considered a bigger wrestler than he was.

“Colt was a 160-pounder in high school the same time I was 112,” Taylor laughed. “There are so many guys I wrestle now that were so much bigger than me in high school.

“It’s different for me too. When I look at brackets or at tournaments, I find myself watching guys I used to wrestle, but I realize they are at 125 and 133 now and I have to remember that I am at 157. The weirdest thing for me is that the guys I wrestle now at my weight and thinking back to when I was at 103 pounds as a high school freshman, they were juniors and seniors wrestling at 160.

“Now we are at the same weight class. That’s weird for me to get a grip on.”

So is there any difference between competing as a light weight to a middle weight?

“I think the mentality I had my whole life was to go after guys and really score points,” Taylor said. “A lot of time, little wrestlers are a lot faster, quicker. I think I have that same mentality as I move up these weight classes and use that attitude to my advantage.

“Most of my opponents have been at least middle weights their entire (young adult) lives. I’ve always grown up in a little weight. That quickness is still something I have in my style.”

Taylor said Sanderson’s style has also helped him in a Penn State line-up that includes five freshmen.

“He is always joking around,” Taylor said. “I don’t want to say he has an awkward sense of humor but there are times when he will make you laugh and say things to keep you relaxed. Our (wrestling) room is a pretty relaxed atmosphere.

“Even though there are a lot of freshmen on our team this year, everyone is going out and wrestling and no one is feeling nervous. We don’t feel like the young guys. For us, (meets) are just another practice and we’re pretty loose.

“We’ll play a game before warm-ups. He’s just a great person. He is inspiring, provides leadership. He’s been there before. He’s done it. He knows how to win, especially NCAA titles. If he told me to do 20 pushups before I go out to wrestle, I’d do 20 pushups.”

Taylor added that he is especially impressed by Andrew Alton, who is starting as a true freshman at 141 pounds, where the native of nearby Mill Hall, Pa., was also undefeated after 12 matches and pinned nine of his foes.

“He’s a pinning machine,” Taylor said. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s a phenomenal athlete, a good wrestler. He’s really skilled. He simply goes out there and pins guys. He’s getting the job done.”

Taylor is really looking forward to the NCAAs in Philadelphia, where he believes the Nittany Lions — ranked sixth in WIN’s Tournament Power Index — have a legitimate shot to win a team championship; something no East Coast team has done since 1953 when that group of Lions led the NCAA field.

“It would be crazy,” Taylor. “I’ve been around a lot of wrestling much of my life. I was at a successful high school program. The core of those who follow us at Penn State is like nowhere else. Last year I got a chance to feel a dual-meet experience as a fan in the stands. Now I get to wrestle in it and it’s nothing I’ve ever been around before.”

Everything about David Taylor’s life is a growing experience.

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