Looking back: Graham’s Taylor captures fourth state wrestling title in 2009

Olympic champion’s career took off in St. Paris with coach Jeff Jordan’s program

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story on David Taylor, who won an Olympic gold medal on Thursday in Tokyo, ran in the March 14, 2009, edition of the Springfield News-Sun.

David Taylor dances on the center mat. He wears a black Graham Wrestling T-shirt on top of a gray sweatshirt.

Taylor is calm as he waits to wrestle in the final round of the state meet in Division II at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus on March 7. No matter the outcome, this will be the final match of his high school career. He seeks to become the 17th wrestler in Ohio history to win four state titles.

» PHOTOS: David Taylor through the years

With headgear in hand, Taylor rolls his neck right, then left in a perfect circle. He jumps in place, his knees almost touching his head. He stretches his left and right quad muscles.

Taylor is the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the 135-pound weight class in the United States. He hasn’t lost in two years. He doesn’t plan on losing today. He doesn’t want to ever lose again - his competitive nature won’t let him.

“There’s no one who’s worked harder than I have this year,” Taylor said three days before the state tourney. “There’s nothing really to stress about.”

At this time of the year, Taylor explained, you’re not going to get any better or worse. His confidence makes him believe no match - not even this title match against Alliance’s Manuel Cintron - should go the full six minutes. His performances in the previous three rounds, in which he won every match by technical fall, have proved him right.

“If I wrestle to my ability for six minutes,” Taylor continued, “there’s nobody that can hang with me.”

‘I was terrible’

As a child growing up in Evanston, Wyo., Taylor was hyper. He played all kinds of sports, but when his mother, Kathy, saw an advertisement in the newspaper for youth wrestling at Evanston High School, she asked her son if he wanted to give it a try.

He’s never looked back.

“I went up there and got my butt kicked,” Taylor said. “I was terrible my first year. For some reason, I kept wanting to do it.”

By the end of the season, Taylor improved to the point where he won the year-end tournament.

The next year, Taylor was even more motivated to become a good wrestler. He remembers the best wrestlers working out on a balcony in Evanston, while the more inexperienced kids wrestled on the floor.

“I eventually got up on the balcony,” Taylor said.

His father, David Sr., was a wrestler in high school and is a pilot for Delta Airlines. He would take tapes of Taylor’s matches on trips with him and take notes on how his son could improve.

“When he got home, we would go down in our basement and get on the floor, and he’d go over the notes with me and teach me technique,” Taylor said.

Taylor caught the national wrestling bug as an 8-year-old. He would go to a tournament every weekend all over the country, including Colorado or Utah.

“We didn’t really know much about it, except that it was a tough tournament,” Taylor said. “I didn’t cut any weight, so you would just go weigh in, and if you weighed 57 pounds, you’d wrestle at 60. I don’t even know if we had a scale at the time.”

Taylor’s first national tournament victory came at the Reno Worlds at 52 pounds. He also won the outstanding wrestler award for having the most pins in the least amount of time.

“That was the first thing that jump-started me,” Taylor said. “It gave me that first taste of being good. It really sparked me to want to get better.”

At 9, Taylor attended Jeff Jordan’s State Champ Camp for the first time. He attended the camp with Collin Palmer, who would eventually go to Lakewood St. Edward and become the 18th four-time state champ (at 140 pounds in Division I) on March 7 after Taylor got his fourth.

“I kept coming back every fall,” Taylor said. “I really liked it out here. (In sixth grade) there was a bid for my dad to transfer. I said, ‘It’d be really awesome to wrestle for Coach Jordan.’ He put the bid in for Cincinnati, and we moved here.”

By sixth grade, Taylor would win a tournament and the outstanding wrestler award (OW), usually tech-falling all five challengers he faced.

“In less time than other people were pinning (their opponents),” David Sr. said. “I told him it was time to start getting ready for high school, and you don’t need those OWs anymore. He was like, ‘Aww, Dad,’ and I said, ‘I’ll make you a deal. You can go for the OW, but you can’t pin them. You have to tech them.’ He was throwing crazy scores up.”

By seventh grade, Taylor had made a big jump and “really started beating people up technically.” He went on to become just the second wrestler in state history to win three Ohio junior high state titles.

‘The room’

Taylor’s a fierce competitor. No matter what he does - whether it’s playing cards or video games - he wants to win.

“I treat wrestling the same way,” Taylor said. “I expect to win. If I do what I do best, if I put points on the scoreboard, I’m going to win.”

Taylor loves the hard work that comes with wrestling. Winning a tournament is proof, he said, that a wrestler works hard every day.

“When you go to a tournament and you wrestle people and you beat them, they’re like, ‘Man, that kid’s good,’ " Taylor said. “There are a lot of kids who say, ‘That kid’s good because he’s just talented.’ I’ve always wanted people to say, ‘That kid’s good because he works so hard.’ I always tell myself there’s no one who works harder than me.”

Taylor’s hardest matches sometimes don’t come in tournaments. They happen inside the wrestling room at Graham High School. You can’t go through an entire practice without being taken down, Taylor said, but that’s what makes it so worthwhile.

“The guys you’re wrestling are the best guys in the country, not just the state,” Taylor said. “If you take them down, you surely can take down the guys you’re wrestling at tournaments.”

The Falcons practice every day after school and have an optional drill every night. Taylor also has grueling training sessions with Scott Goodpaster at Cincinnati Functional Fitness every Sunday.

“He kills him,” said David Sr.

Taylor doesn’t take very many days off. He even drilled the day after prom last spring.

“His season never ends,” David Sr. said.

Credit: Jay Cymbalak

Credit: Jay Cymbalak

A true Ironman

Before his freshman year, Taylor weighed 98 pounds. His dad wanted to hold him back. He knew a brutal schedule could be tough on an undersized freshman.

But Taylor decided to take his chances. Getting held back, he said, “is kind of like cheating.” He wanted to do it the right way.

In his first high school tournament, Taylor lost to Troy Christian’s Ben Sergent. It was a loss that would have a positive effect on the season, calling it “the best thing for me.” It took away the pressure of going unbeaten.

Later that season, Taylor won his first Ironman Invitational at Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit, which is one of the toughest prep meets in the nation, and was primed for his first state title.

“I probably weighed 103 by then,” Taylor said. “I was still eating whatever I wanted. I would eat steak every day. I was so sick of it by the end of the year.”

He beat Jefferson Area’s Kyle Gilchrist 10-2 in the finals to win his first state title.

“And he had three herniated disks, a sore neck and the flu in the finals,” said David Sr. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Taylor has lost just once since his freshman year - a decision to Lakewood St. Edward’s Jamie Clark as a sophomore. Taylor again won the Ironman and the state title as a sophomore, and won both titles at 112 pounds as a junior - but fought off a growth spurt all year.

“I wasn’t having a lot of fun because I was cutting too much weight for me,” Taylor said.

He decided to make a change for his senior season. He told his father he wanted to get bigger and wrestle at 135 pounds.

“Everyone laughed at me,” Taylor said.

He proved them all wrong.

In December, he became the first wrestler in history to win four Ironman titles. He also moved up a weight class to beat Palmer in a dual meet with Lakewood St. Edward in January. Palmer had never been beaten in the state of Ohio prior to the match.

Heading into the state tournament, Taylor is focused on the task at hand - winning four matches to become one of the greatest wrestlers in Ohio history.

“I’ve devoted my life to wrestling,” Taylor said. “It’s paid off. I’d like to go down in Ohio history with people saying, ‘That kid’s one of the best, or the best.’ It’s something I’d like to do.”

The celebration

It didn’t take Taylor long to dominate in his finals match against Cintron. After one period, Taylor led 12-1. Thirty-nine seconds later, he grabbed Cintron and threw him on his back.

In his corner, Jordan rises to his feet and waves his arm down in a slamming motion. He knows the script. Taylor pins Cintron. The newly crowned four-time state champ jumps to his feet, raises his arms in celebration and points at his parents in the stands. He receives a standing ovation from the crowd of 14,787.

After the referee raises his arm in victory, he hugs Jordan, who whispers words of encouragement in his ear.

“He said: ‘Congratulations on a great high school career. Now get it done at the next level.’ "

Taylor’s journey to four state titles is finally complete, finishing his career 180-2.

“My goal coming in here was to dominate every minute of the match,” Taylor said. “I wanted to go out with a bang, I guess.”

Credit: Barbara J. Perenic

Credit: Barbara J. Perenic

The next chapter

After the match, Taylor’s focus turns from his high school career to college. Next year, he’ll wrestle at Iowa State under the legendary Cael Sanderson, who won four NCAA titles and a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics.

There’s no time to rest. Taylor has new goals to accomplish. His story still is being written.

“(Winning four state titles) isn’t something you can sit and dwell on and think, ‘Man, I was pretty good in high school,’ " Taylor said. “In college, no one cares about that.”

After four years at Graham, Jordan’s time with Taylor is up. The coach enjoyed watching every minute of Taylor’s career.

“It’s probably tougher (winning four state titles) now than it was back in my day,” said Jordan, who has four of his own. “It’s tough. You’ve got to be on for 16 matches at the state tournament. It’s very tough. That’s why there have only been 18 of them in the state of Ohio in the last 90 years.

“He’s a special one,” Jordan continued. “There aren’t too many David Taylors out there in the world today.”

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