David Taylor’s resume reads like Aesop wrote it. The Graham senior has four D-II state titles, three junior high state titles, four Walsh Ironman titles, five National Championships, two Super 32 titles, a Beast of the East crown and is the 2009 Dave Schultz National Award winner. He’s also the Ohio High Magazine Wrestler of the Year and the country’s most sought after recruit.
It’s hard to imagine David Taylor as an ordinary wrestler. Let alone one that wasn’t very good.
“I was absolutely terrible,” said Taylor, recounting his first year. “I didn’t win a match all year until the very last tournament. I remember after that my dad asked if I wanted to do it again the next year and I couldn’t believe wrestling season was already over. He seemed surprised that I wanted to do it again since I was so bad, but he thought maybe I had a passion for it, and I did.
“I remember that first year the beginning wrestlers had to wrestle on the gym floor and the advanced wrestlers got to wrestle on the stage. I wanted to wrestle up on that stage.”
Since earning an invitation in elevation the next year, Taylor has been on a different level in his wrestling career.
One of Ohio’s top wrestlers ever regardless of weight, Taylor, a senior at St. Paris Graham High School, is arguably the state’s top lightweight wrestler in history. Any list of Ohio’s Top 10 wrestlers of all-time has to include him.
Taylor’s resume reads like Aesop wrote it.
– Four Division II state titles
– Three Ohio junior high state titles
– Four Walsh Ironman titles (only wrestler ever to do so)
– Five Junior and National Cadet National Championships
– Two Super 32 titles
– A Beast of the East crown
– 2009 Dave Schultz National Award winner (given by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame)
There’s literally nothing Taylor hasn’t accomplished during his high school career. He’s even lost.
Ending his prep run with a 180-2 career record on March 7 at the Ohio High School State Wrestling Championships in Columbus, Taylor, the 2009 Huntington Bank/Ohio High Wrestler of the Year, wrapped an impressive four-year stretch that includes an undefeated record the past two seasons. Ranked No. 1 in the country this season at 135 pounds, Taylor also has four state team titles to his credit and a national championship (2008). This season Graham set the state team scoring record and had a record seven individual state champions. The Falcons were ranked No. 2 in the nation.
No, Taylor doesn’t own a cape, but it sure seems like he should.
“Graham has produced a lot of hammers throughout the years and without question David Taylor is right at the top of that list as one of the best ever to come out of here,” Graham head coach Jeff Jordan – a four-time state champion himself – said. “David has stepped up one more level than what most people get to.”
Taylor’s trail to the top has had plenty of turns, detours and hazards – but like his opponents – he’s overcome 99-percent of them.
YOU’RE FROM WHERE?
Evanston, Wyoming is a small town located in the southwest part of the state. It’s four miles from Utah and 10 from Colorado. Its population is 11,507. It’s also the place where David Taylor’s story starts.
His mom Kathy gets credit for the first push.
“When I was little I tried all sports and I was real hyper,” Taylor said. “My mom saw an ad in the local newspaper for a youth wrestling program and she signed me up and took me. That was it.”
Taylor started wrestling at age 5 and struggled, losing every bout his first year except for the season’s final tournament where something clicked and he won a match. The next year the snowball began.
Taylor improved as a six and seven year-old and blossomed when he turned eight.
“I look back on it, and that first year fueled me,” Taylor said. “I just kept going and kept getting better.”
Taylor’s dad also played an integral part.
A former high school wrestler, Taylor’s father Dave moved the family around when David was younger, finishing out his military duty with stints in Florida and Georgia. David was born in Nevada (Reno).
After settling in Evanston and getting a job (pilot) with Delta Airlines at the Salt Lake City Airport, Dave Taylor started to nurture his son’s wrestling addiction.
On trips the elder Taylor would watch wrestling videos and attend meets, taking notes of technique. When he returned home the duo would refine the form in the basement.
David got so good, the family had to start leaving the state to find suitable competition.
What they found was a gold mine.
One of the venues Taylor landed at was Wasatch High School in Heber, Utah. There, under the guidance of Wasatch varsity coach Steve Sanderson, Taylor would regularly drill against an up and coming wrestler one-year his elder named Jason Chamberlin. Chamberlin (Springville, Utah/Boise State) as it turns out became the country’s No. 1 ranked wrestler in the Class of 2008. Taylor – many think – holds the same distinction for 2009.
And Coach Sanderson? He’s the father of Iowa State wrestling legend and Olympic Gold Medalist Cael Sanderson. Sanderson went 159-0 at Iowa State and is the only collegiate wrestler ever to finish his career undefeated. He’s also got three brothers that won Utah High School state titles at Wasatch.
“That’s where I got to know Cyler and Cael and Cody and Cole,” Taylor said. “When they would come home during the summers I would wrestle with them. That was before Cael was Cael. I think he was a red-shirt freshman.”
The Sandersons aren’t the only famous wrestling family to have an influence on Taylor.
After getting his “butt kicked” at the Cliff Keen Tournament and finishing “one spot out of placing” at the ensuing Tulsa Nationals, Taylor broke through to win the Reno Worlds as an eight-year old. He was named the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler.
“That was when I turned the corner,” Taylor said. “That was the watershed moment if I had to look back on one thing.”
The next year Taylor came to Ohio and attended camp with his friends from Cleveland – the Palmers, Lance and Collin.
“We were really good friends,” Taylor said. “I would stay with them and then go to camps with Lance and Collin. That’s how I got to my first Jordan Camp.”
Lance and Collin were both four-time Ohio High School state champions at Lakewood St. Edward High School.
Jeff Jordan’s summer camps are also legendary. And once Taylor attended that first one he was hooked. Fate got pinned too.
A few months later Dave Taylor got orders for a transfer. The choices were Boston, Atlanta or Cincinnati. Wrestling-wise the choice was a no-brainer.
As for the school district, that was another matter.
“When we knew we were moving to Ohio we started looking around at some programs,” Taylor said. “At the time there was a big article about Moeller and how they had just got a big, brand new wrestling room. My dad actually emailed their coach and he never returned the email. So we looked elsewhere. If he had returned that email, it’s possible I’d be at Cincinnati Moeller.”
Taylor landed at Graham.
“Dad asked me where I might like to go so I told him that I liked Coach Jordan and I liked his camps,” Taylor said. “I told him that if we could move there, that would be awesome.”
“When you get a guy that fired up for wrestling – who all he wants to do is wrestle – that’s good for your room,” Jordan said. “David had been to our camp for 5-6 years before he enrolled. It was either here or Atlanta or Boston. And Georgia doesn’t have the best high school wrestling and neither does Massachusetts, so it was just kind of lucky for us that Ohio was an option.
“We’re glad Cincinnati has a Delta hub.”
Taylor arrived prior to the sixth grade and won the first of three junior high state titles later that year.
Winning over friends wasn’t so easy.
“It took me a while to fit in with friends and I sat by myself at the lunch table for two weeks,” Taylor said. “I’m not sure why it took me so long – I’m not a shy kid – but the friends I finally made then are still my best friends today. Josh Schuler, he plays basketball, he’s my best friend. Austin Jones (basketball) and Seth Rogers (baseball) are also two of my really good friends.”
Just for good measure, Schuler is arguably the best basketball player in Graham history, having led the Falcons to back-to-back district titles and undefeated regular seasons and a state Final Four appearance last season. He’s the program’s all-time leading scorer and was named the Southwest District D-II Player of the Year.
Jones is the basketball program’s all-time leader in assists.
Rogers is an All-Central Buckeye Conference baseball player.
Graham High School had a strong wrestling legacy long before Taylor enrolled.
Jeff and older brother Jim Jordan both won four state titles for the Falcons in the early 1980s. As a program, Graham has won nine straight D-II state titles and 11 overall. Individually, Graham wrestlers have won 50 state championships.
Without Taylor the Falcons resume is absurd. With him it’s mythical.
While he became the 17th wrestler in Ohio history to win four state titles in March, Taylor became the first Ohio wrester ever to do something else in January.
On the bus ride home from the Alliance Top Gun Invite, Taylor sought out Jordan and made an astonishing proposition.
“We’re freezing on the bus coming home from Alliance and David just comes up and sits in my seat and says ‘Coach I need to talk to you,’” Jordan said. “He said he wanted to move up to 140 to wrestle (Collin) Palmer. I went ‘Wow.’ That was the last thing I was thinking.”
Palmer, like Taylor, was ranked No. 1 in the country at his weight class and was a three-time defending state champion.
Never before had two three-time defending state champions squared off in Ohio history. Let alone two nationally No. 1 ranked wrestlers.
“We decided (that) Sunday at noon because I wanted to make sure that everyone knew and I wanted to be fair to Collin and didn’t want to surprise him,” Jordan said. “We made the decision and called some people in Cleveland to make sure they got the word out.”
The following weekend a standing room only crowd watched as Taylor defeated Palmer 8-5. He trailed 4-3 entering the third period.
“I’ve had a lot of people ask me what makes David Taylor so good,” Jordan said. “He’s good in all positions and he’s good on the mat, but I think his best attribute is he never violates position. He never comes out of his stance and he always sticks to the game plan. He always does what needs to be done when it needs to be done. He has unbelievable discipline as a wrestler. He’s never flustered.
“Palmer took him down in the first eight seconds. The second period he got reversed and he was down 4-1, but it never shook him. He stuck to the plan and showed no emotion until after the match. Then I think he was pretty happy.”
So were his teammates.
Taylor’s challenge didn’t go unnoticed or underappreciated.
“When Palmer took him down in the first eight seconds I thought uh-oh this might go bad, but David never quit,” senior James Mannier (171) said. “That was a great day for Graham wrestling and for David.”
“I didn’t see how he could lose,” senior Brian Stephens (145) added. “I don’t want to sound cocky, but when David sets his mind to do something he does it. I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do.”
The loss was Palmer’s first to an Ohio wrestler. He – like Taylor – won his fourth state title on March 7.
Talk about a titanic tilt.
“A lot of guys nowadays shy away from the big-name wrestlers,” Jordan said. “They always tend to be a weight class above or below. I think there is going to be more matches now where guys say ‘What the heck, if I get beat I get beat.’ I mean David Taylor came to me and said ‘Coach there’s a 50-50 chance I lose this match but it’s something that I just want to do.’
“Whether we won or lost I thought it was the right thing to do.”
“People don’t do that,” Taylor added. “People don’t bump up a weight to do that. If you’re as high-profile as we are you try to stay away from each other, but I wanted to do it so now maybe more kids will stop running from each other.”
The competition has run from Taylor plenty. It’s no fun knowing you’re going to lose.
Of his 16 state matches over four years, only one went the full six minutes. That bout – the state final his freshman year – Taylor won by major decision 10-2.
Only five times since his sophomore year did Taylor go six minutes with any opponent, and one was Palmer. He won at least 42 matches every year of high school.
“Wrestling at Graham is not so much a sport but rather a way of life,” Jordan said. “Kids eat, sleep and breath wrestling here and David’s taken that a step farther. Wrestling is his life. It’s been that way for a long time.”
“There are kids that want to wrestle, there are kids that have to wrestle and there are kids that love to wrestle,” Taylor said. “I love to wrestle. I love the sport. I think about it all the time and I have a passion for it. I’m always looking to get better every day.”
Taylor’s college destination is still undecided.
Following a childhood dream, Taylor originally committed and signed with Iowa State University and head coach Cael Sanderson.
“(During those days at Wasatch High) I remember telling my dad how cool it would be if Cael was the head coach at Iowa State one day and I got to wrestle for him,” Taylor said.
Although Taylor may still wrestle for Sanderson, it won’t be for the Cyclones.
Sanderson left Iowa State on April 17, accepting the job at Penn State and becoming the highest paid wrestling coach in the country as a result.
On May 5, Taylor received his release from Iowa State. Sanderson was at his house that night. Ohio State visited hours later.
Taylor said he’s considering the Nittany Lions, Buckeyes and Oklahoma State.
“I am open to anywhere,” Taylor said. “I am going to take some time to evaluate all of my options. I’m pretty sure I will visit Penn State and Ohio State.”
Taylor said he hasn’t planned any of his remaining official visits, but he still has four at his disposal. The only one he took previously was to Ames (Iowa State).
“I am in the process of finishing school and getting read to schedule trips,” Taylor said. “Here very shortly I should have a better idea of a schedule.”
Ultimately, there’s no denying where Taylor wants to land – atop the podium at the NCAAs and in the Olympics.
The odds are in his favor.
“When I was younger I had a goal – and its was kind of crazy,” Taylor said. “ But I wanted to be a four-time high school champion, a four-time NCAA champion and an Olympic Champion. Being a four-time NCAA champ is a hefty goal, and if I can be lucky enough to win one title that would be great. But when I go out there I plan on being competitive. Ultimately I want to make the Olympic team in 2016.
“I want to be an Olympic champion.”
Said Jordan: “David Taylor is going to go to college and be very successful. He’s going to be contending for national titles every year and hey, the Olympics is the long-term goal and David Taylor is going to shoot for that.
“David reaches his goals. He’s one of the few guys that once he sets one he puts his whole life into it. I know his next goal is to win four national titles and make the Olympic team. He’s got just as good a chance to do that as anyone else.”