Penn State Wrestling: Top 15 Nittany Lions of All-Time

NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

The latest news, insight, and analysis of Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, and Penn State Basketball, including schedules, game results, analysis of breaking news, rumors, speculation, and recruiting coverage of future Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home to the latest Penn State Nittany Lions news, updates, insight, and analysis, including in-depth coverage of Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball, and much more

Penn State Wrestling: Top 15 Nittany Lions of All-Time

With each passing season in collegiate wrestling, Penn State Wrestling appears to re-write the history books.

But long before Cael Sanderson was hanging championship banners in Rec Hall at the same frequency I hang curveballs in adult baseball, the Nittany Lions were a long and storied program.

Penn State Wrestling, Cael Sanderson,
Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson (Image via HawkCentral)

During my time writing for NittanyCentral, I’ve put together quite a few articles illustrating the wrestling history in Happy Valley. Below is a list of featured articles:

Ranking the Top 5 Nittany Lions of the 1950’s
Ranking the Top 10 Nittany Lions of the 1960’s
Ranking the Top 5 Nittany Lions of the 1970’s
Ranking the Top 10 Nittany Lions of the 1980’s
Ranking the Top 12 Nittany Lions of the 1990’s
Ranking the Top 8 Nittany Lions of the early 2000’s

Then with the incredible results from the 2024 NCAA Championships where the Nittany Lions set numerous team records, I slapped together a Mount Rushmore of Penn State Wrestling and ranked the best NCAA Wrestling teams of all-time.

Continuing with the above theme, it is now time to put out the definitive list to end all definitive lists. And that is to rank the top 15 Nittany Lion wrestlers of all-time.

But before we jump into the list, here is a look at the guys who just missed out on the cut.

Honorable Mention

John Johnston (1956-1958)

Career record: 43-4
NCAA titles: 1 (1957)
All-American: 2x (1st 1957 & 3rd 1958)
Career win %: 91.5% (16th)
Conference titles: 3 (1956-1958)
Career bonus point %: 25.5% (NR)
Career wins: 43 (NR)

John Johnston dropped only four career matches and his 91.5% career winning percentage puts him above the likes of Nittany Lion all-time greats such as Roman Bravo-Young, Cary Kolat, Vincenzo Joseph, Nick Lee, Sam Harry, and Kerry McCoy.

When you look at the careers of two of the best Penn Staters in the 1950’s, it’s really close between Dick Lemyre and John Johnston. But in the end, with what he did on the mat against the best in the nation and what he did against one of the best to ever done a singlet, John Johnston just makes the cut at No. 15 on my list.

Phil Davis (2005-2008)

Career record: 116-20
Dan Hodge Trophy: 0
NCAA titles: 1 (2008)
All-American: 4x (7th 2005, 2nd 2006, 5th 2007, 1st 2008)
Career win %: 85.3
Conference titles: 2 (2006 & 2008)
Career bonus point %: 42.6% (NR)
Career wins: 116 (T-18th)

Phil Davis is the only Penn State wrestler in the 2000’s to be crowned an All-American all four years he took to the mat.

Davis burst onto the scenes his freshman year when he went 37-10 with 16 bonus wins and a seventh place finish in the 2005 NCAA Championships.

He then built on that success his sophomore season when he compiled a 25-4 record, battled his way to his first Big Ten title, and finished runner-up in the 2006 NCAA’s.

By Phil Davis’ standard you could say his junior year wasn’t quite as good as others, but I’m not going to tell him that. The last thing I need is for my right leg wrapped around my left arm like some crazy human pretzel.

Davis still finished with a 28-5 record and his third All-American finish by taking fifth in the 2007 NCAA’s.

Phil’s final year on the mat was simply amazing.

He crushed his way through the 2007-2008 regular season and only dropped one match en-route to his second Big Ten title. The only blemish was a regular season loss to Northwestern’s Mike Tamillow.

And that’s exactly who Davis bested in the Big Ten finals to get his sweet, sweet revenge.

Phil then set his sights on the field at the 2008 NCAA Championships. And if you were in Davis’ way, then all I can say was God help you.

Phil Davis pinned his first foe and then breezed his way through the next four matches for combined match total of 29-7. And with his win, Davis became just the second Nittany Lion grappler in the 2000’s to win an NCAA title.

Quentin Wright (2009-2013)

Career record: 116-23
Dan Hodge Trophy: 0
NCAA titles: 2 (2011 & 2013)
All-American: 4x (6th 2009, 1st 2011, 2nd 2012, 1st 2013)
Career win %: 83.5 (NR)
Big Ten titles: 2 (2011 & 2013)
Career bonus point %: 45.3 (NR)
Career wins: 116 (T-18th)

Quentin Wright was clearly one of Cael Sanderson’s best wrestlers early in his coaching tenure at Penn State Wrestling. And Wright’s career clearly speaks for itself as I have him coming in at No. 8 on my list.

Wright was a big factor in Penn State bringing home the 2011 NCAA Team Title as he went on to win his 1st of 2 NCAA Titles.

The Wingate, PA native made his mark on collegiate wrestling early on in his career as he spun his No. 11 seed at the 2009 NCAA’s into a 6th place finish. Earning the freshman his 1st of 4 All-American distinctions. A mark which only a handful of Penn State grapplers have ever accomplished.

After bringing home his 1st NCAA Title in 2011, Wright then went on to finish runner-up in the 2012 NCAA’s.

But, true greats are never satisfied with second place and Wright was no exception.

Quentin turned in an incredible senior campaign in 2013 by going 32-0, winning his 2nd B1G Title, taking home his 2nd NCAA Title, and being named a four-time All-American.


Vincenzo Joseph (2017-2020)

Career record: 89-9
Dan Hodge Trophy: 0
NCAA titles: 2 (2017 & 2018)
All-American: 3x (1st 2017, 1st 2018, 2nd 2019)
Career win %: 90.8 (19th)
Big Ten titles: 0
Career bonus point %: 58.8 (13th)
Career wins: 89 (T-44th)

The reason Vincenzo Joseph didn’t crack the top 15 is because his career is difficult to put in perspective. Mainly due to his 2020 season not coming to a close at the NCAA Championships. Had the NCAA’s happened and had Joseph won his 3rd title, it would have put him in an even smaller list of Penn State grapplers to win three NCAA titles.

And given Alex Marinelli’s track record in the NCAA Tournament, I would have bet the farm on Joseph to win.

But, as it stands, Vincenzo won two NCAA titles and he was a three-time All-American. Which is impressive anyway you slice it.

Unfortunately for Joseph, he was never able to take home a B1G title as Isiah Martinez and Alex Marinelli spoiled his chances between 2018-2020.

But hey, winning two NCAA titles, finishing runner-up in 2019, and being crowned an All-American three times still lands you in this article.

Top 15 Nittany Lion Wrestlers of All-Time

No. 15 Sanshiro Abe (1993-1996)

Career record: 125-15
Dan Hodge Trophy: 0
NCAA titles: 1 (1996)
All-American: 4x (4th 1993, 3rd 1994, 2nd 1995, 1st 1996)
Career win %: 89.3% (NR)
Conference titles: 3 (1993, 1994, & 1996)
Career bonus point %: 52.6% (19th)
Career wins: 125 (8th)

Sanshiro was the third Penn State wrestler to ever finish his career with four All-American finishes. And Abe did so with a small straight in descending order to boot (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th).

You could argue that Sanshiro Abe is one of the best lightweights in Penn State history. And for good reason, just look at what he did in his career. But it just so happens that the next guy has a narrow leg up in that race.

No. 14 Jeff Prescott (1989-1992)

Career record: 88-15-2
NCAA titles: 2 (1991-1992)
All-American: 3x (5th 1990, 1st 1991, 1st 1992)
Career win %: 83.8% (NR)
Conference titles: 3 (1990-1992)
Career bonus point %: 63.7% (7th)
Career wins: 88 (48th)

In his three full-time seasons wrestling for Penn State, Prescott won three conference titles, finished fifth in the 1990 NCAA Championships, and won the crown in both the 1991 and 1992 NCAA’s.

And while he “only” has 88 career wins, he was a bonus point beast as he ended his career with 23 major decisions, 21 technical falls, and 21 falls.

Jeff Prescott’s accomplishments and accolades would normally land someone at the top of the list when looking at each decade. But there just so happened to be someone in the 90’s that somehow reached even higher peaks. More on this guy later.

No. 13 Nick Lee (2018-2022)

Career record: 119-13
Dan Hodge Trophy: 0
NCAA titles: 2 (2021 & 2022)
All-American: 5x (5th 2018, 5th 2019, 2020, 1st 2021, 1st, 2022)
Career win %: 90.2 (22nd)
Big Ten titles: 1 (2022)
Career bonus point %: 65.2 (7th)
Career wins: 119 (T-14th)

If you were to put a face to Penn State Wrestling, it has to be Nick Lee’s following his win over Kizhan Clarke in the 2022 NCAA Championships.

Arms raised at the center of the mat with a stoic expression on his busted-up and black-eyed face.


Nick was a tough, gritty, and amazingly talented grappler as evidenced by his career bonus point percentage being sixth in Nittany Lion history.

I still find it amazing that he only, and I used the word “only” very lightly here, won a single Big Ten title. But who cares, right? His 119 career victories, over 90% win percentage, and two NCAA titles are all that need to be said as to why he belongs on this list.

And he remains the only guy in Penn State wrestling history to be crowned an All-American five times.

No. 12 Jim Martin (1986-1989)

Career record: 155-9-4
NCAA titles: 1 (1988)
All-American: 4x (4th 1986, 2nd 1987, 1st 1988, 3rd 1989)
Career win %: 92.3% (15th)
Conference titles: 2 (1988 & 1989)
Career bonus point %: 56.1% (17th)
Career wins: 155 (1st)

Jim Martin wasn’t just great, he’s an all-time Nittany Lion legend. And he’s once of the most dominant lightweights Penn State and the nation have ever seen.

Martin was looking to win his second straight NCAA title in 1989 and he made it to the finals to face NC State’s Michael Stokes.

The match between Stokes and Martin was tight, it was defensive, and it went to overtime. As the remaining seconds ticked away and with both grapplers completely spent and sucking wind, the referee awarded the win to the No. 5 seed Stokes. The massive upset had to be a gut punch to Martin. He was this close to making his third NCAA finals and he could almost taste a second NCAA title.

But in the real world things don’t end like they do in fairytales. Reality can take you from floating in the clouds one second, to being hit in the face with a metal chair in the blink of an eye.

And here, along with a lot of other things, is what makes Jim Martin great. He wrestled his absolute tail off in the wrestlebacks to win a thrilling overtime win against Nebraska’s Jason Kelber and he then took down Iowa’s Tom Brands 6-5 to finish in third place.

During his time in Happy Valley, Jim Martin took part in a total of 168 matches and he only lost nine of them. He put in the hard and difficult work in the wrestling room and he felt the emotions of what it was like to lose a conference finals and what it was like to lose an NCAA finals.

And after that he took matters into his own hands and willed himself to immortality. Jim Martin isn’t just the best Nittany Lion wrestler of the 1980’s, he’s a legend who squarely makes it into the top 15 Nittany Lions of all-time.

No. 11 Roman Bravo-Young (2019-2023)

Career record: 101-10
Dan Hodge Trophy: 0
NCAA titles: 2 (2021 & 2022)
All-American: 4x (8th 2019, 1st 2021, 1st 2022, 2nd 2023)
Career win %: 91.0 (17th)
Big Ten titles: 3 (2021-2023)
Career bonus point %: 46.8 (NR)
Career wins: 101 (T-33rd)

I fully realize RBY’s final season didn’t end the way he wanted it to.

But look, Vito Arujau did something that very few wrestlers have ever done, especially when you consider he bumped up a weight class.

Arujau didn’t just win the 2023 title at 133, he decimated his way there. And his 11-3 win over Daton Fix in the semi finals and his 10-4 win over Bravo-Young in the finals represented the worst loss for each of those two wrestler’s careers in regulation time (RBY was pinned in his 12th match as a Nittany Lion).

But, here’s exactly why I’m bringing this up. Roman Bravo-Young was a special wrestler and his time in Happy Valley was always entertaining to watch. Some of his lightning-quick moves seemed superhuman.

Bravo-Young’s undefeated runs in 2021 and 2022 were simply incredible.

Even if he did bring home the title in 2023, he probably wouldn’t have moved up many spots in this list. And that’s not anything against RBY because words hardly describe how good he was, it’s just a testament to how good the rest of this list is.

No. 10 Mark Hall (2017-2020)

Career record: 116-6
Dan Hodge Trophy: 0
NCAA titles: 1 (2017)
All-American: 3x (1st 2017, 2nd 2018, 2nd 2019)
Career win %: 95.1 (11th)
Big Ten titles: 3 (2018-2020)
Career bonus point %: 62.5 (10th)
Career wins: 116 (T-18th)

I know exactly what you’re probably saying to yourself.

Yes, I realize Mark Hall has a “1” next to the “NCAA titles” category, but there are a plethora of reasons as to why I have him higher than many guys who have multiple titles.

Hall competed in 122 matches during his time at Penn State. And in those 122 matches he only lost six times, which puts him in the top 10 in Nittany Lion history for winning percentage. He won three Big Ten titles, finished runner-up his true freshman year, was a bonus point machine, and could pin anyone from any position.

All said and done, Mark Hall was one of the best technical wrestlers Cael Sanderson has ever had at Penn State.

Hall is one of the few guys who is ranked inside the top 20 all-time for my selected categories. As for his lone NCAA title, here’s Mark Hall’s finish in each of his four years as a Nittany Lion:2017 1st, 2018 2nd, 2019 2nd, 2020 NCAA’s canceled.

Had the 2020 NCAA championships actually happened, then Hall was for sure going to the guy with his hand raised at 174 once again.

No. 9 Kerry McCoy (1993-1997)

Career record: 150-18
Dan Hodge Trophy: 1 (1997)
NCAA titles: 2 (1994 & 1997)
All-American: 3x (1st 1994, 3rd 1995, 1st 1997)
Career win %: 89.3% (NR)
Big Ten titles: 3 (1994, 1995, & 1997)
Career bonus point %: 38.1% (NR)
Career wins: 150 (2nd)

In today’s world of collegiate wrestling everyone knows about the Dan Hodge Trophy and the prestige that follows around each year’s winner. However that award didn’t begin until North Carolina’s T.J. Jaworsky took home the distinction in 1995.

After a perfect 41-0 record his senior year, Penn State’s Kerry McCoy became the first Nittany Lion to be awarded the Dan Hodge as he took home the honor in 1997. But this isn’t the only reason I have McCoy inside the top 10.

In both of Kerry’s national championship runs he put together a run of perfection never seen before in Happy Valley. In his sophomore and senior campaigns, McCoy held an 88-0 record which also included 19 major decisions, seven technical falls, and 22 pins.

The 1990’s saw a rise in the level of Penn State Wrestling, and it was guys like Sanshiro Abe, Jeff Prescott, and Kerry McCoy who would eventually pave the way for the greatness Nittany Lions fans see today. And all three of these elite grapplers belong in the pantheon of Nittany Lion all-timers.

Penn State Wrestling
Andy Matter

No. 8 Andy Matter (1970-1972)

Career record: 58-2
NCAA titles: 2 (1971 & 1972)
All-American: 2x (1st 1971 & 1st 1972)
Career win %: 96.7% (7th)
Conference titles: 3 (1970-1972)
Career bonus point %: 31.7% (NR)
Career wins: 58 (T-89th)

Trying to compare what Andy Matter did back in the early 1970’s to today’s collegiate wrestling is not easy. Heck it’s not easy even comparing him to guys like Jim Martin. However I do know one thing …

Andy Matter wasn’t just a dominating wrestler, he was a force of nature.

In his first full season on the mat in 1970, Matter blew through the competition and took home his first EIWA Conference title. Matter then continued his dominance with a 16-1 win in the opening round of the 1970 NCAA Championships. But in his next match against Oklahoma State’s John Lightner, Andy was a little too confident in his skills.

Up 8-0 in the third period and in bottom position, Matter tried to go into cruise control. But this backfired as Lightner caught him in a bad position. Matter’s back was eventually turned to the mat and his run in the 1970’s NCAA Championships was over.

Two things never happened after that match: Matter vowed to never be cocky and Matter never lost an NCAA Championship match again.

Andy cut through the NCAA field his junior and senior campaigns and won titles both years. This accomplishment cemented Matter as the best Nittany Lion at that time to ever don the blue and white singlet. Andy finished his career with three EIWA titles, two NCAA titles, and a completely absurd winning percentage of 96.7%. Only Dick Lemyre (1952-1954) was close as he was in second place with 93.0%.

And yes, have Penn State fans seen some truly historic wrestlers in the past decade plus?

Absolutely. But Andy Matter wasn’t just the best wrestler of the 1970’s for Penn State, he is unquestionably one of the top eight in program history.

To put things in perspective, a long time fan of Nittany Lion Wrestling told me the following:

“When we went to Rec Hall back in the early 70’s, it wasn’t a question of whether Andy would win. The only question was by HOW MUCH!”

That says it all.

No. 7 Jason Nolf (2016-2019)

Career record: 117-3
Dan Hodge Trophy: 0
NCAA titles: 3 (2017-2019)
All-American: 4x (2nd 2016, 1st 2017, 1st 2018, 1st 2019)
Career win %: 97.5 (5th)
Big Ten titles: 2 (2017 & 2019)
Career bonus point %: 86.6 (2nd)
Career wins: 117 (17th)

Let me first detail Jason Nolf’s only three losses in his Nittany Lion career: 3/06/16 4-3 TB2 loss to Isaiah Martinez – 2016 Big Ten Finals3/19/16 6-5 loss to Isaiah Martinez – 2016 NCAA Finals1/28/18 injury default to John Van Brill So, that’s a loss in the finals of the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments in his freshman year and an injury default his junior year.

That’s it.

Had Nolf finished the 2018 Big Tens, then he would have no doubt won that year’s title.

But, since he was rehabbing from the injury suffered against Van Brill, Jason crushed his first two opponents and then forfeited the rest to finish sixth, earn the automatic bid, and get some much-needed rest. He then went on to win the title his junior season while being very far from 100%. And Jason Nolf at maybe 60% beat his five opponents to the tune of 56-12.

*cue the wide eyes emoji*

When comparing him historically, there aren’t many better than Nolf. Nolf has the fifth-highest winning percentage, and the second-highest bonus point percentage, and he is No. 2 all-time in terms of pin percentage (50.4%). Just think about this, in over half of the 120 matches Jason laced up his shoes, he won by fall.

That’s bananas.

No. 6 Bo Nickal (2016-2019)

Career record: 120-3
Dan Hodge Trophy: 1 (2019)
NCAA titles: 3 (2017-2019)
All-American: 4x (2nd 2016, 1st 2017, 1st 2018, 1st 2019)
Career win %: 97.6 (4th)
Big Ten titles: 3 (2016, 2018, & 2019)
Career bonus point %: 77.1 (3rd)
Career wins: 120 (13th)

When looking at the stats between Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal, they are very similar.

Nolf had a career record of 117-3, a win percentage of 97.5%, bonus point percentage of 86.6%, a fall percentage of 50.4%, three Big Ten titles, and three NCAA titles.

Meanwhile, Nickal had a career record of 120-3, a win percentage of 97.6%, a bonus point percentage of 77.1%, a fall percentage of 48.4%, three Big Ten titles, and three NCAA titles.

But, what gives Nickal the razor-close edge over Nolf is the fact his best season was better than Nolf’s. Bo’s 2018-2019 campaign was absolutely incredible as he was a perfect 30-0 with six major decisions, three technical falls, and a ridiculous 18 pins on the year.

That’s a bonus point percentage of 90.0% and a fall rate of 60%.

His year was so good that Bo Nickal was awarded the 2019 Dan Hodge Trophy. Nickal is the second such Nittany Lion legend so far on this list with a number other than “0” next to the “Dan Hodge Trophy” category. Nickal did things on the mat that appeared to defy all physics … and sometimes logic. He was the ultimate “No, no, no, no. YES!!!” type of wrestler.

And the only reason he’s not in the top five is due to the mountain of accomplishments the remaining guys have piled up.

No. 5 Ed Ruth (2011-2014)

Career record: 136-3
Dan Hodge Trophy: 0
NCAA titles: 3 (2012-2014)
All-American: 4x (3rd 2011, 1st 2012, 1st 2013, 1st 2014)
Career win %: 97.84 (1st)
Big Ten titles: 4 (2011-2014)
Career bonus point %: 75.9 (4th)
Career wins: 136 (5th)

It’s hard to imagine a wrestler as decorated as Ed Ruth only sits at No. 5 on this list.

This is a guy who would be the greatest of all-time for the following wrestling programs:

Yep, I’m talking about the same guy.

As I’ve stated before, an individual’s ranking in this list should in no way be an indictment against them as it’s chock-full of NCAA greats.

When trying to separate the best-of-the-best from themselves, nothing makes it simple.

When looking at Ruth, several facts jump out at you. In the hypothetical question I asked myself I pointed out that Ruth has the highest winning percentage in Nittany Lion history.

Ed is also the first grappler on this list to win four Big Ten and three NCAA titles. And the only reason I have him slotted at fifth is that while he was a bonus point producer and pinned opponents at a high rate, it just doesn’t compare to what the remaining four guys did.

Penn State Wrestling, Carter Starocci
Carter Starocci of Penn State Wrestling (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

No. 4 Carter Starocci (2020-2024??)

Career record: 93-4
Dan Hodge Trophy: 0
NCAA titles: 4 (2021-2024)
All-American: 4x (1st 2021-2024)
Career win %: 95.9 (10th)
Big Ten titles: 2 (2022 & 2023)
Career bonus point %: 54.8 (22nd)
Career wins: 93 (T-39th)

Carter Starocci will always go down as Penn State’s first four-time NCAA champion. That’s a fact.

It’s also a fact that had he not gotten injured in the dual meet against Edinboro, he would have finished his career with 71 straight victories. Starocci only had four losses in his career and two of those were the forfeits in the 2024 Big Ten’s.

There’s another fact that is simply indisputable, Carter Starocci is one of the most mentally strong and toughest competitors to have ever come through Happy Valley. Regardless of the sport. Period.

Carter won an NCAA title in 2022 with a broken hand. And he defied all of the odds on the planet when he won his fourth title this year with only one functional knee.

However it’s also possible that there could be another Penn State chapter in Starocci’s future. Hence why I have the question marks next to the years he was in Happy Valley. In a recent interview he did with FloWrestling, it sure sounded like the door was open to a run at possibly a fifth NCAA title.

But if Starocci chooses not to return, then obviously that wouldn’t really matter. Because seriously, what else does this guy have to prove?


No. 3 David Taylor (2011-2014)

Career record: 134-3
Dan Hodge Trophy: 2 (2012 & 2014)
NCAA titles: 2 (2012 & 2014)
All-American: 4x (2nd 2011, 1st 2012, 2nd 2013, 1st 2014)
Career win %: 97.81 (2nd)
Big Ten titles: 4 (2011-2014)
Career bonus point %: 91.2 (1st)
Career wins: 134 (6th)

And now we’ve reached the first two-time winner of the Hodge Trophy portion of the article.

In David Taylor’s entire Nittany Lion career (137 matches), he only lost to two wrestlers. Arizona State’s Bubba Jenkins in the 2011 NCAA finals and Cornell’s Kyle Dake in the 2013 regular season and in the 2013 NCAA finals.

Following his undefeated sophomore year where Taylor went 32-0 with a bonus point percentage of 94%, he was awarded his first of two Hodge Trophies.

Then, after he steamrolled everyone his senior season by going 34-0 and having a bonus rate of 94%, David earned his second Hodge Trophy. And in doing so he landed on a very short list of collegiate wrestlers who won the Dan Hodge more than once.

Here was the list of multi-winners at the time:
Cael Sanderson 2000, 2001, & 2002
Ben Askren 2007 & 2008
David Taylor 2012 & 2014

Taylor’s career winning percentage is only 3/100 away from No. 1 all-time and his career bonus point percentage was a staggering 91%!

He finished either as the NCAA champion or the runner up in each of his four seasons and he and Ed Ruth are the only two grapplers on this list to win four Big Ten titles. It truly is splitting hairs when comparing David Taylor to the next two guys. Because honestly, I would have no problem with any of them being No. 1. So with that, here’s who I have as the top two wrestlers.

Aaron Brooks, Penn State Wrestling, USA Olympic Wrestling Trials
Penn State Wrestling’s Aaron Brooks. (Photo by Scott Pilutik, For NittanyCentral)

No. 2 Aaron Brooks (2019-2024)

Career record: 89-3
Dan Hodge Trophy: 1 (2024)
NCAA titles: 4 (2021-2024)
All-American: 4x (1st 2021-2024)
Career win %: 96.7 (6th)
Big Ten titles: 4 (2020, 2021, & 2023-2024)
Career bonus point %: 65.2 (6th)
Career wins: 89 (T-44th)

It goes without saying, but Aaron Brooks comes in at No. 2 on this list as he’s a four-time Big Ten champion and one of only seven wrestlers to ever be a four-time NCAA champion. And I give him the slight edge over Carter Starocci. Which is no one’s fault as injuries never happen at a good time.

Brooks’ 2023-2024 season was one of the most dominant seasons in Nittany Lion history.

Aaron won his fourth Big Ten title, was named the Outstanding Wrestler of the Big Ten Championships, and was the Big Ten Wrestler of the Year. Then Brooks went and won his fourth NCAA title, was named Outstanding Wrestler of the NCAA Championships, and was crowned the 2024 NCAA Most Dominant Wrestler.

And him taking home the 2024 Dan Hodge Trophy was simply the cherry on top.

With how Aaron Brooks has competed in the wrestling room and how he performed under the bright lights of the NCAA’s, it’s simply incredible. And during his career at Penn State, with the way he wrestled, with how he handled himself in a humble manner off the mat, and how he generally carried himself, Brooks is true champion inside and out. It may be a long time until the Nittany Lion faithful see someone as truly great as Aaron Brooks.

No. 1 Zain Retherford (2014-2018)

Career record: 126-3
Dan Hodge Trophy: 2 (2017 & 2018)
NCAA titles: 3 (2016-2018)
All-American: 4x (5th 2014, 1st 2016, 1st 2017, 1st 2018)
Career win %: 97.7 (3rd)
Big Ten titles: 3 (2016-2018)
Career bonus point %: 75.4 (5th)
Career wins: 126 (7th)

As I just said, I would have no problem with either David Taylor, Aaron Brooks, or Zain Retherford being No. 1 on anyone’s list of top wrestlers in Penn State history.

But, there’s a reason I have Zain slightly ahead of both Taylor and Brooks.

Following Retherford’s loss in the consolation bracket in the 2014 NCAA Championships, he proceeded to rattle off 94 straight wins to finish his Nittany Lion career.

This streak spanned from 3/22/14 until 3/17/18 and was a total of 1,456 days. Take a look at Retherford’s postseason run his sophomore season in the Big Ten and NCAA Championships:

2016 Big Ten
Major decision

2016 NCAA
Technical fall
Major decision

He then had a similar run his junior campaign:

2017 Big Ten
Technical fall

2017 NCAA
Technical fall
Technical fall
Technical fall
Technical fall.

That’s right folks.

Zain Retherford won an NCAA finals match against the second-best wrestler in his weight class by a tech fall. That’s almost unheard of.

In 18 totals matches between the 2016-2017 Big Ten’s and the 2016-2017 NCAA’s, Retherford tallied a lone decision win, two major decisions, six technical falls, and nine pins. This wasn’t just dominance, it was something entirely different. And it was also something rarely ever seen in collegiate wrestling.

While Retherford’s senior postseason run wasn’t as flashy as the prior two, he nonetheless blew the doors off of everyone and capped off his Penn State Wrestling career with three Big Ten titles, three NCAA titles, and two Dan Hodge Trophies. And Zain Retherford’s amazing three year run is why I have him a tiny notch above David Taylor and Aaron Brooks in Penn State Wrestling’s all-time pecking order.

MORE: Where Things Stand with PSU Wrestling’s 2025 Recruiting Class

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