Penn State wrestler David Taylor has one goal to go: the Olympics

Penn State's David Taylor (top), known as "Magic Man" on the mat, is a two-time NCAA champion and twice has been named the nation's top college wrestler.
Penn State's David Taylor (top), known as "Magic Man" on the mat, is a two-time NCAA champion and twice has been named the nation's top college wrestler.
Posted: July 07, 2014

David Taylor was competing with something important on the line, which is exactly how he likes it. But in the match for the 165-pound Big Ten wrestling championship in March, he found himself in a position wrestlers try very hard to avoid.

"The guy got behind me and lifted me off the ground," Taylor said. "In wrestling, when your feet are off the ground, you're in some trouble."

It was an unexpected predicament because Taylor was wrestling for his fourth straight conference title. He would also go on to win his second NCAA individual championship and help Penn State secure its fourth consecutive NCAA team title, a stretch that happens to coincide with Taylor's time in State College.

Even dating back to his high school career, when Taylor was a four-time state champion in Ohio, he had been ticketed for stardom in the sport. But even the loftiest of stars are supposed to keep their feet on the ground.

"Somehow, as I hit the mat, I hit my shoulder and rolled through and came up on top. It ended up being a takedown. I probably could never replicate that again," Taylor said. "It was one of those when you come out on top and can't do anything but smile, because you're not really sure how it happened. You just know that you have to keep wrestling and never concede a point."

Off the mat, he's a nice 23-year-old guy with big ambitions. On the mat, he's known as "Magic Man," and that Big Ten championship escape was just another trick from a deep bag. The next trick is going to be the hardest, though. Taylor is pointing toward the 2016 Olympics, and he will have to go through Sicklerville's Jordan Burroughs, the reigning Olympic gold medalist at 74 kilograms (163.1 pounds).

Wrestlers don't get into the sport for fame or glory or million-dollar contracts. It is a tight and passionate world, but not a large one. Still, Taylor has managed to get noticed for his many accomplishments at Penn State, and he will represent wrestling in Los Angeles in two weeks as an ESPY nominee for best male college athlete of the year.

"Wrestling is seen as an inferior sport to others like football and basketball. It's not seen as being on the same level, so to be nominated for the award with those athletes is an incredible honor," Taylor said. "To be seen on the biggest sports media outlet you can imagine and get some recognition for what we're trying to put into the sport is fantastic. I'm just going to go out there and soak in the moment of being there with so many great athletes."

Among the five nominated, Taylor will be up against hot-shooting Doug McDermott from Creighton and quarterback Jameis Winston of Florida State. It's a tough group, but can any of them match Taylor's 134-3 collegiate record for the Nittany Lions?

"The way you compete is better than whether you win or lose," Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said after Taylor was selected for his second Dan Hodge Award as the nation's top wrestler, the sport's version of the Heisman Trophy. "This kid has a passion for wrestling and was an entertainer and was trying to score points the whole seven minutes."

He was that way from the start, from the moment his mother signed him up as a 5-year-old to try to burn off some of his energy. Taylor was given the most-attentive award at that first wrestling program, which he said was the consolation prize given to the kid who got pinned most often.

"I spent a lot of time counting lights in the ceiling," he said.

It got better and better from there, though, and he made a list of goals when he was 8 years old that included four high school state championships, four NCAA championships, and an Olympic gold medal.

He got all four of the high school awards, two of the NCAA titles, and the Olympics are still in front of him. The Adidas wrestling program has signed up to help sponsor his quest and will be producing a special Magic Man shoe in the fall. Now that wrestling survived a short-lived removal from the Olympic program (it would have been cut starting in 2020, but the IOC scored a reversal on its decision), Taylor hopes to ride the sport's momentum to the top.

"David is on track to be a world or Olympic champion," said Bruce Bennett, USA Wrestling freestyle national team coach. "But we also know he's got a three-time world champion and Olympic champion in his weight class. Obstacles sometimes get in our way, but here's what I know: He's a class guy who has the work ethic and loves wrestling. He is strong, has good speed and flexibility, excellent mat awareness, and agility. Combine those qualities, and good things usually happen."

There are no guarantees, however. Not that Taylor is asking for one.

"If you want to be the best, like they always say, you have to beat the best. If I want to be the best, I have to beat the best, and that's Jordan. He's the code we're trying to crack. I would want it no other way than to go through the hardest path possible to achieve the goal I've had for so long. All the cards will be on the table in 2016."

For now, however, there is another conference and national championship to savor, and the ESPY nomination as a bonus. It's fun, but Taylor is remembering to keep his feet on the ground. Sometimes, there are special wrestlers with special magic who can get away with having their feet dangling in the air, but even they know that's not recommended.


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