BETHLEHEM, Pa. (D9/EYT) – Lehigh University redshirt-freshman Nathan Taylor may be a Division I wrestler now, but the Brookville product says it was not always so simple.
(Photos courtesy of Hannahally Photography)
As a freshman at Brookville, he went 1-3 on the season and followed it up with a slightly above .500 record as a sophomore. However, there were brighter days ahead as Taylor’s junior and senior seasons proved to be life-changing as it helped him to earn a scholarship to Lehigh University, a school with one of the richest college wrestling traditions in the nation.
“The tradition at heavyweight is really strong here,” said Taylor about why he decided to become a Mountain Hawk. “Academically, it is very good here, which was something that was exciting for my mom to hear. Overall, what sealed the deal for me was the tradition I knew I would be a part of as a Lehigh heavyweight.”
As Taylor and his coaches planned, he accepted a redshirt for the 2021-22 season, something that has allowed him to wrestle in exhibition matches while improving in the wrestling and weight rooms. This year is something he hopes will allow him to eventually become a national champion and a four-time All-American.
Reaching the podium was something Taylor did often in his junior and senior years at Brookville, but it was not always as simple as it may seem from the outside.
“I’ve been wrestling since I was about seven or eight years old, but it never really clicked for me,” Taylor said. “I was always the backup or was under someone’s wing. I was never really the star, which may be surprising for people to hear. I really only had about two great years in my wrestling career, so it’s been awesome to adjust to winning.”
Winning is exactly what Taylor did a lot of in his final two years as a Brookville Raider as he won two District 9 titles, two regional titles, a super regional title, placed fourth in states in 2020, won a state title in 2021, went 31-1 as a senior with 20 falls, and finished his career 87-24 overall. It was certainly not easy as Taylor wrestled in his senior year never knowing when his last match could possibly be because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My mindset my senior year was just one match at a time,” he said. “I was just happy to get on the mat and get some matches in. In the end, I was glad I could end the year with a state title.”
Incredibly, Taylor’s state title was the third in four years for Brookville at 285 as Colby Whitehill won gold in 2018 and 2019. Wrestling against Whitehill in practice is something Taylor cites for helping him to improve.
“I think it helped me an incredible amount,” Taylor said. “It just taught me to keep fighting. Some days, I wouldn’t even get a takedown on him for the entire practice, but I kept getting back up and fighting.
“I had some deep and honest conversations with my coach (Dave Klepfer) and he told me if I keep fighting, it is going to come,” he added. “I really think Colby (Whitehill) pushed me to become who I am now because prior to that, I was not coming from very much success.”
Other factors that drove him to stick with the sport include being a middle-schooler when the Raiders captured the 2016 state team title, as well as growing up hearing about the 1999 team that also captured state gold.
“I knew I wanted to be at that level after watching the 2016 team coming up through,” said Taylor. “We always have had the support of the community and have gotten fire truck escorts and a parade through town after finishing fourth as a team. People just expect us to do well every year.”
While Taylor’s final two years as a Brookville wrestler are noteworthy, he never specialized in wrestling as he remained committed to the Brookville football program during his high school career. He helped the program reach the District 9 title game in 2019 as the team narrowly lost to Karns City. He was also named All-District as a punter for the Raiders in his senior season.
“I was so comfortable on the field because I went out there and played with guys who I had been playing alongside for years,” Taylor said. “It was important for me to play, and I used it as a bit of a break to get off the mat. I also credit Coach (Jim) Rush for helping me get better in the weight room during football, which carried over into wrestling.”
Coach Klepfer is another mentor Taylor credits for helping him become the wrestler he is today, because he encouraged him to never stop working. Putting this belief in Taylor helped him overcome a slow start to his career in wrestling to now catapult to the Division I level.
“He’s an awesome man,” Taylor said. “He helped me come from almost nothing and winning just one match as a freshman to get where I am. He and a lot of others spent a lot of hours with me.”
Taylor also cites his mother, Andrea, for being the number one person in his life that kept him focused on athletics, but also his studies. That focus has paid off in a big way as he is studying at a Patriot League institution, some of the best colleges and universities in the entire country.
Though it is a redshirt season, he currently leads Lehigh in victories with 23 as of Jan. 19. He has wrestled 33 matches, which will go a long way in helping him to have the experience he needs to succeed once he can compete in dual matches and postseason competition.
This school year has also helped him to discover that his skills and interests are best suited for business. Currently, he is in Lehigh’s College of Arts and Sciences, but he believes he will switch to the school of business before the beginning of his fifth semester.