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Jeff Byers: David Taylor A Perfect Ambassador of Penn State

by on December 22, 2011 9:22 PM

Sometimes it just all fits together — the right person at the right time.

Abraham Lincoln, in hindsight, was the right man to lead this nation through its Civil War. Joe Montana is considered by many to be the best quarterback ever, but his timing with the 49ers organization couldn’t have been better. Could there have been a better leader for the 1979 Pirates than Willie Stargell?

Well, David Taylor almost went to Iowa State. We will never know what would have happened there. And while we still don’t know with certainty how his career at Penn State will go, it is hard to imagine Taylor at any other school.

“Penn State has been the perfect fit for me,” Taylor said. “I am just so happy that it worked out this way. It’s not just the wrestling – I mean, I have great teammates and great coaches and workout partners – but it’s the whole situation. I just love everything about Penn State, and everything is working out really great.”

Taylor, the consensus No. 1 wrestling recruit coming out of high school in 2009, had signed with Iowa State. Taylor had a long-standing relationship with the Cyclones head coach, wrestling legend Cael Sanderson.

But on April 17, 2009, Sanderson was named the new coach at Penn State. Taylor reopened his recruiting, eventually opting to follow his mentor to University Park.

It is a decision that clearly paid dividends for the Penn State wrestling program as Taylor completed a wildly successful redshirt freshman campaign by advancing to the NCAA finals, losing in the finals to former teammate Bubba Jenkins by fall on a counter to Taylor’s shot that resulted in Jenkins securing a tight cradle.

It is the only loss so far for Taylor, who has earned bonus points in 41 of his 46 collegiate victories. Taylor has recorded 13 pins, 17 technical falls, 11 major decisions and five decisions to go with the one nagging loss.

To watch Taylor wrestle is truly to watch an artist at his craft. He has the ability to make the most challenging moves look easy. He is deceivingly strong, remarkably quick, amazingly agile and perhaps most importantly, relentlessly competitive.

He is a student of the sport and says he has benefited from everyone he’s worked with at Penn State.

He said: “I try to pick up things from everyone – not just [assistant coach] Casey [Cunningham] and Cael but Dylan [Alton], [Ed] Ruth, Quentin [Wright] and really, everyone on the team. Everyone brings something different and I try to figure out what will work for me and what I can add to make my game better.”

Taylor’s boyish good looks, ever-present smile and his good-natured, upbeat demeanor have endeared him to fans. He is comfortable with being one of the stars of his sport and doesn’t shy away from the great expectations.

“I know if I wrestle like I’m capable of doing then no one can beat me,” he said. “This year, I expect to dominate people. I don’t want to be satisfied with winning. I want to dominate and I want to keep improving. Everyone can always improve and I just want to keep getting better.”

Taylor is 8-0 this season with five pins and two technical falls. His lone decision came over returning All-American Brandon Hatchett, of Lehigh, and Taylor was feeling under the weather for a couple of days leading into that match.

Taylor’s work ethic and talent would have allowed him to succeed anywhere. But to hear him tell it, he would not have had the chance to reach his full potential in all areas of his life if he had gone somewhere else.

“I think I would have done well at Iowa State and I’d probably have been happy there,” Taylor said. “But I just know that this is the right place for me. I really feel like I have the best possible situation here with the coaches and the training partners and also just the campus and the people around here – the whole thing is just perfect for me.”

A long-time observer of Penn State wrestling says Taylor has blossomed as a person here, too. His parents have also talked openly about how important the Penn State experience, as a whole, has been for their son’s development.

And Penn State is certainly benefiting from having the young man, not just the wrestler, on campus. Taylor has been seen at many sporting events, supporting his fellow student-athletes. He spends time working with youth. He consistently jokes around with teammates and keeps the atmosphere around him loose. But there is always an unmistakable edge with which he competes. An outstanding student, Taylor reminds many long-time followers of the program of such well-rounded greats as Andy Matter, Jim Martin and Kerry McCoy.

It is funny how things work out. As a wrestling fan, I loved watching Sanderson compete and openly rooted for him as he pursued perfection his senior year (he finished his career with a 159-0 record, the only wrestler to complete four years of collegiate varsity competition undefeated) and would likely have rooted for David Taylor if he were at Iowa State or any other school for that matter.

But fate has allowed David to find his perfect spot and for Penn State fans (and its resident broadcaster) to watch one of the great ones in his prime. For wrestling fans, watching Taylor is similar to basketball fans having watched Michael Jordan at North Carolina or Bo Jackson at Auburn. Taylor is special and Penn State, for all of its recent turmoil, is still a special place, too.

Having David Taylor at Penn State is not only special, it’s perfect.

Jeff Byers has been the wrestling team’s traveling announcer since 1990.
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