The Penn State Wrestling Team added Aaron Nagao amid a whirlwind of transfers to Happy Valley back in April.
Nagao then became the proverbial cherry on top.
So, now would be as good of a time as any to take a deeper dive into Aaron Nagao, look at a bit of his background, highlight his accomplishments, and see what he brings to the table for the Nittany Lions in the upcoming season.
5 Things to Know About Penn State Wrestling Newcomer Aaron Nagao
No. 1 – Penn State beat out both Iowa and Iowa State to land Nagao
Given the success Cael Sanderson and Penn State have had in both the transfer portal and on the recruiting trail, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that Aaron chose to continue his college career in Happy Valley.
But, looking at the teams that were in the mix for his services, it will most likely end up being a huge pickup.
Both the Hawkeyes and Cyclones return numerous All-Americans and had either of them landed Nagao, it would have been an immediate boost to their team title chances.
With the uncertainty plaguing the Nittany Lions at 125 pounds, the loss of a two-time NCAA champion at 133 (Roman Bravo-Young), and the possibility of both of their returning NCAA champs not wrestling this season, the gap between Penn State Wrestling and the field certainly closed.
Oh, there’s also been recent news that all-world heavyweight Gable Steveson has been milling around the Iowa wrestling room.
Can you imagine the Hawkeyes with both Nagao and Steveson?
Well, thank goodness you don’t have to Penn State Wrestling fan, because Aaron Nagao is right where he belongs.
No. 2 – Aaron is a man of faith
Speaking of being where he belongs, Nagao firmly believes Happy Valley was the best place for him. And not just because of Penn State’s dominant wrestling program.
In a Baschamania podcast back in April, Nagao spoke candidly about why he chose the Nittany Lions.
“My faith has guided me through this process,” Nagao explained. “It gave me clarification and peace of mind when I needed it. In the end I chose the spot where I feel I would best serve God.”
It’s no secret that guys like Aaron Brooks, Greg Kerkvliet, and Carter Starocci are influenced heavily by their faith. You can see it by how they handle themselves both in the public and on the mat. They believe strongly in their faith and it’s a big reason they’ve become the men they are.
When Mitchell Mesenbrink chose Penn State over a host of schools, he also noted the faith of the wrestling room.
The Nittany Lion wrestling room is a deeply religious place.
They’re religious about their training and workouts, they’re religious about their nutrition and diets, they’re religious about getting better everyday in their preparation, and they’re religious in doing all of this consistently.
Combine that with a world class head coaching and coaching staff, and you end up with a room full of trophies and titles.
Which is a good thing if you like winning.
No. 3 – Nagao is a very seasoned collegiate grappler
While Aaron is a only sophomore in terms of eligibility, his experience on the wrestling mat far exceeds the year of school he’s in.
After winning his second CIF state title as a senior in high school, Aaron greyshirted the 2020-2021 season due to the pandemic. And with the unknown of the pandemic lingering around, Nagao focused on one thing during his off year; training his tail off.
Then during his redshirt freshman campaign, Nagao started to turn some heads in Minneapolis with his ability on the wrestling mat.
Aaron won the 2022 Last Chance Open and finished the year with an impressive 8-3 record.
Following that season, Nagao went 7-0 at U23 World Team Trials, while defeating teammate Jake Gliva in the process. His improbable showing landed him a spot on the U23 World Team at 61 kgs.
And then in the U23 World Championships in Pontevedra, Spain, Nagao placed fifth in a stacked field at 61 kgs.
Building on the success of his first full season on the mat for the Golden Gophers, Aaron won the 2022 Bison Open, plowed his way to a 23-6 record, finished runner up at the 2023 Big Ten Championships, and took home his first All-American honors with a fifth place finish in the 2023 NCAA’s.
So yeah, Aaron Nagao still has three years to go, but the guy has already seen A LOT!
No. 4 – One-third of Aaron’s career varsity losses came at the hands of an all-time Nittany Lion great
In his early career, Nagao has only dropped six total matches. Two of which were to Penn State great Roman Bravo-Young.
The first loss came in the finals of the 2023 Big Ten Championships (5-2) and the second loss in the quarterfinals in the 2023 NCAA’s (4-1). Clearly RBY had his hands full as neither bout was a runaway victory.
Furthermore, Nagao also has two career losses to Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix.
So for those scoring at home, 66% of Aaron Nagao’s varsity losses were to two of the very best grapplers to occupy the 133 slot in the last three years.
And if you’re curious as to who beat him the other two times, it was two-time All-American Chris Cannon and NCAA Qualifier Brayden Palmer.
Brayden Palmer, Chris Cannon, Daton Fix, and Roman Bravo-Young are a legitimate murders row and Nagao pushed each one to the limit.
So yes, it’s safe to say that Aaron Nagao is a super talented and highly competitive grappler.
No. 5 – Nagao led Minnesota by taking down 12 ranked wrestlers in his freshman season
Check out this list of guys Aaron Nagao dispatched of last season:
2023 NCAA Championships
4-0 decision Jesse Mendez (All-American 6th)
5-4 decision Kai Orine (All-American 8th)
12-0 major dec Zach Redding (Round of 12)
fall 2:50 Micky Phillippi (five-time National Qualifier)
8-0 major dec Kurt Phipps (National Qualifier)
2023 Big Ten Championships
6-4 SV1 Jesse Mendez
10-2 major dec Henry Porter
4-2 SV1 Lucas Byrd (two-time NCAA All-American)
2022-2023 Regular Season
5-1 decision Taylor LaMont (All-American and five-time National Qualifier)
6-3 decision Connor Brown (two-time NCAA Qualifier)
6-1 decision Zach Redding
10-3 decision Kurt Phipps
Nagao’s run in both the 2023 Big Ten Championships and in the 2023 NCAA Championships is very familiar to the Nittany Lion faithful as they’ve seen many Penn State wrestlers do it.
But if Aaron did that in a wrestling room that wasn’t the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex, just think what he can do after training in Happy Valley?
And that should be a scary thought for the rest of the D1 wrestling field at 133 pounds for the upcoming season and beyond.