Who are the top ten best Penn State wrestlers of all time? Although the program has seen an uptick in NCAA Champs with their recent dominance under Head Coach Cael Sanderson, Penn State has crowned National Champions dating back to the 1930’s.
In 1933 Howard Johnston became the Nittany Lions’ first-ever wrestler to win an NCAA title.
Fast forward 90 years and PSU is crowning champs such as Mark Hall, Aaron Brooks, and Carter Starocci. While none of those wrestlers are on this list yet, don’t be surprised if Brooks and Starocci finish their careers as two of Penn State’s best wrestlers in history.
This list of the best Penn State wrestlers is based on criteria, including number of NCAA titles, All-American placements, career record, bonus percentage, and Hodge Trophies.
#10 Sanshiro Abe
1X NCAA Champion (126 lbs)
At #10 on the list is Sanshiro Abe, who won 1 NCAA title and went undefeated on the season in 1996. He was Penn State’s 126 lbs at the time and one of Cary Kolat’s known training partners after Kolat left Penn State. Kolat and Abe won titles back-to-back at 126 and 134 lbs.
Abe was a 4X All-American placing consecutively 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st; these stats give him the credentials to crack into PSU’s top ten wrestlers of all-time.
#9 Jim Martin
1X NCAA Champion (126 lbs)
Next is another “old-school wrestler” who has more wins than any other Penn State wrestler. 4X All-American Jim Martin was known simply for winning. He accumulated over 155 wins and one NCAA title during his time as a lightweight Nittany Lion in the late 80’s.
#8 Kerry McCoy
2X NCAA Champion (Hwt)
Just 5 wins short of Martin’s record is the only heavyweight to make this list. Kerry McCoy won 2 NCAA titles in the 1990’s and is the first multiple-time NCAA Champ on this list.
In those two seasons he won Nationals, McCoy went undefeated with 47-0 and 41-0 records, respectively. In his senior year, he even became Penn State’s first wrestler to win the Hodge Trophy, college wrestling’s version of the Heisman.
#7 Vincenzo Joseph
2X NCAA Champion (165 lbs)
One of the wrestlers who dominated throughout his entire career was Vincenzo Joseph. He made 3 NCAA finals and won 2 NCAA titles during his time at Penn State from 2017-2020. To win his first title in the 2017 NCAA finals, he notoriously pinned the “unbeatable” Isaiah “IMAR” Martinez.
“Cenzo” is one of the unfortunate wrestlers to have his 2020 season cut short due to the canceled NCAA Championships. Otherwise, he could have even won another title.
#6 Quentin Wright
2X NCAA Champion (184, 197 lbs)
Nittany Lion Quentin Wright won two of his three NCAA finals. This includes when he entered the tournament as the #9 seed in 2011 and knocked off the #1 seed Chris Honeycutt in the quarterfinals. Wright finished his career at 116-23 and a 4X All-American making him one of the best Penn State wrestlers of all time.
#5 Ed Ruth
3X NCAA Champion (174, 184 lbs)
Are you ready for the truth? That is, the Truth Ed Ruth! You may know him now as a dominant MMA fighter in Bellator, but he was also just as dominant on the wrestling mat back from 2011-2014. Ruth won 3 NCAA titles at 174 & 184 lbs. He lost only 1 match during that time to Cornell’s Gabe Dean, who eventually won a few titles himself.
Eventually, Ruth avenged the loss to Dean on the National stage. He was known to shine on the big stage; in fact, of his 20 total matches at NCAAs, Ruth won 13 by bonus points (including most by fall).
#4 Zain Retherford
3X NCAA Champion (149 lbs)
Speaking of success on the National stage, there is a reason Zain Retherford won two Hodge Trophies in 2017 & 2018. With his signature bow-and-arrow, Zain went 126-3 throughout college. His only three losses came during his freshman year, and two of those were to 4X NCAA Champ Logan Stieber of Ohio State.
Zain finished as a 3X NCAA Champ with a 94 match win streak and 53 pins! Seeing him compete at Rec Hall was definitely an item to cross off of the bucket list for college wrestling fans.
#3 Bo Nickal
3X NCAA Champion (184, 197 lbs)
Though there was a healthy in-team rivaly for the Hodge, Bo Nickal never won a Hodge while Zain was his teammate. However, Bo won the 2019 Hodge trophy after Zain graduated. Just a year prior, Nickal secured Penn State the 2018 NCAA team trophy with a pin over Ohio State’s Myles Martin. This was perhaps the most influential win in Penn State Wrestling history.
Let’s get technical for a second; the reason Bo is ranked over Zain is because Bo is a 4X NCAA finalist and has a slightly higher bonus percentage than Zain.
#2 Jason Nolf
3X NCAA Champion (157 lbs)
Surprisingly, Jason Nolf never won the Hodge. However, he did win over 117 college matches, with over half of those by fall! Nolf is Penn State’s career pins leader, and it’s no surprise because he always came up with innovative ways to stick guys.
He won 3 NCAA titles and made 4 finals. And he did it with such humbleness and humility, which is something that’s often overlooked in today’s social media society. These incredible stats make Jason Nolf one of the best Penn State wrestlers of all time.
#1 David Taylor
2X NCAA Champion (165 lbs)
The #1 best Penn State wrestler of all time made 4 NCAA finals, and won 2 titles, while also earning an incredibly high bonus percentage. Now an Olympic Gold medalist, David Taylor was a fierce Nittany Lion.
While he has only 2 titles (compared to others who have 3), Taylor is a 4X finalist known for his on-the-mat dominance. Over his career, “The Magic Man” accumulated a record of 134-3, winning 91% of his matches by bonus points. This is more than any other Penn State wrestler!
At 165 lbs, Taylor had only three losses, one by a crazy fall from Bubba Jenkins and two from 4X NCAA Champ Kyle Dake. In the years that he won his titles, he also won the Hodge Trophy. With his great technical prowess, David Taylor will be known as one of Penn State’s greats for years to come!