By Guy Cipriano
By the time he reached sixth grade, Taylor’s family had moved to Ohio.
Still, Taylor held fond memories of the west’s best known wrestling family and that relationship led to a major announcement Tuesday.
Taylor, the nation’s top-ranked high school senior, has signed a financial aid agreement with Penn State. The arrangement unites Taylor with new coach Cael Sanderson.
Taylor, like many young wrestlers, admires the four-time NCAA and Olympic champion. But Taylor’s experiences with Sanderson are slightly different.
As a youth wrestler, Taylor trained at Wasatch High School, the program coached by Sander-son’s father, Steve Sanderson. Cael was attending Iowa State when Taylor started making the 90-mile trip from Evanston to Heber City, Utah.
“I remembered him as a little guy running around my dad’s room,” Cael said during an interview Tuesday. “I followed him closely.”
Taylor followed Sanderson closely, too. In fact, Taylor, a four-time Ohio state champion at St. Paris Graham High School, followed Sanderson from Ames, Iowa, to University Park.
Taylor signed a letter of intent with Iowa State last fall. His life changed when Sanderson left Iowa State for Penn State in April. New Iowa State coach Kevin Jackson released Taylor from his letter of intent last month, reopening an intense recruiting process.
Taylor visited Penn State, Ohio State and Oklahoma State after receiving his release. Sanderson also visited Taylor’s St. Paris, Ohio, home last month.
“I have known him since I was eight years old, but I really didn’t know who he was at that time,” Taylor said after arriving in State College on Tuesday afternoon. “He then became my idol growing up. I would see him and say, ‘Hi,’ but I didn’t think he remembered me. Once I got older, I got back in contact with him. I followed him to Iowa State, and I’m following him to Penn State.”
For Taylor, a wrestler many view as the nation’s best high school senior, ending the two-part recruiting process represented a relief.
“It was rough,” he said. “A couple of times I had mental breakdowns and I wanted to start crying. That’s where I turned to my family. They helped me through it. The hardest part was building relationships, taking visits and telling coaches no.”
Taylor is considered one of the top wrestlers in Ohio history. He went 180-2, capturing state titles at 103, 112 and 135 pounds. He won the prestigious Walsh Ironman Tournament four times and added to his legacy in January by moving up to 140 pounds and defeating fellow four-time state champion and Ohio State signee Collin Palmer during a dual meet attended by more than 1,100 fans.
Don’t expect Taylor to compete before large crowds as a true freshman. Sanderson said Taylor, who could compete anywhere from 149 to 165 pounds, will “definitely” redshirt in 2009-10.
“There’s no question about it,” Sanderson said. “He’s young for his age and we want to give him a chance to mature. He’s really going to be a force.”
Taylor is the third highly-touted middleweight to give Penn State a commitment since Sanderson’s arrival. Central Mountain juniors Andrew Alton and Dylan Alton, who captured PIAA Class AAA titles at 140 and 145 pounds, respectively, orally committed to Penn State eight days after Sanderson’s hiring.
Blair Academy’s Edward Ruth, a national prep champion, and Luke Macchiaroli join Taylor in this year’s recruiting class. Ruth, a projected 174-or 184-pounder who started his high school career at District 3 Susquehanna Township High School, lost to current Nittany Lion Quentin Wright twice in the PIAA semifinals. Macchiaroli captured three Arizona state titles, including two at 215 pounds.
Taylor, who attended the same high school as Penn State senior 174-pounder David Erwin, is expected to bring more than tremendous wrestling skills to Penn State. He obtained a 4.0 grade point average at St. Paris Graham and received the David Schultz Excellence Award presented by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“He’s a great indicator of what’s coming,” Sanderson said. “You want to build a program around kids like David Taylor. He does the right things in life. He lives the life of a champion. He makes school a priority and that’s the type of culture we want to build around here. We want a clean program that represents Pennsylvania and the Northeast as well as we can.”
Taylor wrestled for one of the country’s best high school teams. St. Paris Graham, where Penn State director of wrestling operations Matt Dernlan coached from 1997-99, captured its ninth straight Ohio Division II title in March by recording a record 282 points and producing seven champions during the state tournament in Columbus. Three other St. Paris seniors ” Zach Niebert (Northern Illinois), Brian Stephens (Virginia Tech) and James Mannier (Navy) ” have committed to Division I programs.
St. Paris Graham assistant coach Mike Ryan called Taylor a “smart, tactical wrestler who never finds himself in a bad position.
“David is just like many wrestlers when they move up, he has things to improve on,” Ryan said. “He knows this and he has a willingness to work hard. As a matter of fact, I’m sure he’s working on those things right now. He’s very driven. There’s no doubt Penn State’s getting a good wrestler.” NOTE:
Sanderson’s younger brother, Cyler Sanderson, has received his release from Iowa State. Cyler, an All-American at 157 pounds, is expected to join Cael at Penn State. Cyler has one year of eligibility remaining.