Penn State’s history is a storied one that has brought 10 team titles back to State College, nine of which have occurred since 2011.
The Nittany Lions’ program has transformed into a dynasty that’s almost guaranteed to see at least one individual national champion every season. In fact, since Quentin Wright’s individual NCAA crown in 2011, at least one Penn State wrestler has won a national championship, barring the canceled 2020 NCAA Tournament.
A lot of great Nittany Lions across all weight classes have come in and out of Penn State’s program over the years, even before Cael Sanderson transformed the program into a perennial powerhouse.
With the 2023 postseason on the horizon, here’s what an all-time Penn State wrestling lineup would look like.
125 pounds: Jeff Prescott
The 125-pound weight class has been an area of struggle for the Nittany Lions since Nico Megaludis took home the 125-pound crown in 2016, but the lightest weight class wasn’t always a weakness.
While Megaludis certainly has a case to take this spot, Jeff Prescott has more of a resume in terms of NCAA championships and conference success than Megaludis does.
Prescott wrestled at the 118-pound weight class, the 125-pound equivalent at the time, for Penn State from 1988-1992. During his time in a blue-and-white singlet, Prescott took home the national title twice in 1991 and 1992, making him the only Nittany Lion lightweight to win two national titles.
Prescott was also a three-time conference champion and a three-time All-American, adding a fifth-place finish at the 1990 NCAA championships.
133 pounds: Roman Bravo-Young
Roman Bravo-Young cemented himself as the best 133-pound — and equivalent weight classes — Nittany Lion to ever wrestle with his 2022 national championship, the second of his career.
Entering the 2023 postseason, Bravo-Young is already a four-time All-American and two-time Big Ten champion on top of his two national titles.
There isn’t much of a debate against Bravo-Young taking the mat in Penn State’s all-time lineup. The only remaining question is whether he adds a third Big Ten title and national championship.
141 pounds: Nick Lee
Nick Lee was the first Nittany Lion to win a national championship at 141 pounds since John Hughes won the 142-pound crown in 1995 before the NCAA’s weight class change.
During his time at Penn State, Lee was a two-time national champion, five-time NCAA All-American and the 2022 Big Ten champion. Lee ended his collegiate career with back-to-back NCAA titles in 2021 and 2022.
Lee is also No. 14 on the Nittany Lions’ all-time win list, claiming 119 victories wrestling for Penn State.
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149 pounds: Zain Retherford
Zain Retherford is not only Penn State’s greatest 149-pound wrestler, but he has an argument for the Nittany Lions’ best pound-for-pound wrestler of all time.
Retherford is a two-time Dan Hodge Trophy winner, one of only five wrestlers to win multiple Hodge trophies since the award was created in 1995.
On top of that, Retherford owns a 127-3 career record, which is third in Penn State’s all-time win percentage list. Retherford won his last 94 collegiate bouts en route to three consecutive national titles.
Retherford ended his career with a long list of accolades, including four All-Americans and three Big Ten championship victories on top of the aforementioned three national championship victories and two Hodge trophies.
157 pounds: Jason Nolf
Jason Nolf is the only Nittany Lion to win a national championship at 157 pounds, and he won three of them.
Nolf is also high up on the list for Penn State’s greatest overall wrestler of all time, as he’s one of four Penn Staters to win three national championships. As a Penn State wrestler, Nolf was a four-time NCAA finalist, four-time All-American and a two-time Big Ten champion as well.
When it comes to finishing wrestling matches early, Nolf is the greatest Nittany Lion to ever do it. Nolf’s 60 career pins are the most by one wrestler in Penn State history.
165 pounds: David Taylor
After flipping his commitment from Iowa State to follow Sanderson to Happy Valley, David Taylor wrestled one of the Nittany Lions’ most illustrious careers.
Like Retherford, Taylor also won two Dan Hodge trophies in his time at Penn State, though Taylor was the first Nittany Lion to pull off this accomplishment. To this day, Taylor and Retherford are the only Penn State wrestlers to win multiple Hodge trophies.
There were a few considerations for this spot in the lineup, mainly Vincenzo Joseph and Andy Matter. While Joseph and Matter both won two national championships like Taylor, Taylor set himself apart in other ways.
Taylor’s career beats Joseph’s career simply because Joseph didn’t win a Big Ten championship, despite his success on the national stage. Taylor won four Big Ten titles in his four years with the program.
When compared to Matter, who won three conference championships of his own, Taylor’s longevity stands out. Matter went 58-2 during his Penn State career, while Taylor finished 134-3 in his career.
Taylor left the college mats as a four-time NCAA finalist, four-time Big Ten champion, four-time All-American and a two-time national champion.
174 pounds: Mark Hall
By the time the 2022-23 season ends, it’s likely that Carter Starocci’s name will be listed at this spot. For now, though, it belongs to Mark Hall.
Hall won a national championship at 174 pounds during his freshman season in 2017 before finishing as the national runner-up at the 2018 and 2019 national championships. Hall was in a great position for the 2020 NCAA Tournament and until the pandemic canceled the event.
At Penn State, Hall was a force in the Big Ten, winning three consecutive Big Ten championships to close out his career.
While the gap between Hall and Starocci is closing in by the day, Hall’s resume as a three-time Big Ten champion, three-time All-American, three-time NCAA finalist and the 2017 national champion is tough to beat.
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184 pounds: Ed Ruth
The 184-pound spot in Penn State’s all-time starting lineup is arguably the most debatable thanks to two Nittany Lion greats: Bo Nickal and Ed Ruth. However, Ruth earns the spot by a narrow margin.
Ruth dominated during the early days of Sanderson’s tenure, finishing his career with a 136-3 record. His 97.8% win percentage remains the best in Penn State history, barely edging out Taylor.
While Ruth’s win percentage is an area where Ruth has an advantage over Nickal, so is Big Ten success. Ruth won four Big Ten titles in a Penn State singlet, two of which came at 184 pounds, while Nickal won three at three different weight classes.
Overall, Ruth was a three-time national champion, two-time 184-pound national champion, a four-time All-American and a four-time Big Ten champion.
197 pounds: Bo Nickal
An all-time Penn State lineup feels incomplete without mentioning Nickal. Thanks to his senior season at 197 pounds, Nickal earned a spot on this list.
Nickal wrestled in three different weight classes during his four years with the Nittany Lions. Starting at 174 pounds in his freshman year, Nickal also wrestled two seasons at 184 pounds before closing out his career at 197 pounds.
Nickal’s 197-pound season was the best of his career and also the best by a Penn State 197-pounder ever.
Thanks to a perfect 30-0 record, Nickal took home the national championship, Big Ten championship and the Dan Hodge Trophy all in one season. Nickal also recorded a 90% bonus-point percentage, which included 18 pins.
Overall, Nickal left Penn State as a three-time NCAA champion, four-time NCAA finalist, four-time All-American, three-time Big Ten champion and a Dan Hodge Trophy winner.
Heavyweight: Kerry McCoy
Four Nittany Lions have won the Dan Hodge Trophy, and former Penn State heavyweight Kerry McCoy is one of them. In fact, McCoy was the third-ever recipient of the award in 1997.
From 1992-1997, McCoy was Penn State’s heavyweight. Over the course of those five years, McCoy would record the greatest career a Nittany Lion heavyweight has ever seen to this day.
McCoy’s career didn’t start out so hot, as he finished an average 19-17 in his freshman season at the 190-pound weight class back then. However, the final three seasons of his collegiate career featured a stark improvement after McCoy converted to a heavyweight.
In his first season at his new weight, McCoy finished his sophomore season with a perfect 47-0 record, complete with a Big Ten title and a 1994 National Championship victory. After a third-place NCAA finish in 1995 and a one-year Olympic training break in 1996, McCoy returned to the mountaintop in 1997.
As a fifth-year senior, McCoy went 41-0 during the 1996-97 season, again winning the Big Ten and heavyweight national championships. This time, though, McCoy took home extra hardware by winning the 1997 Dan Hodge Trophy, which was first handed out in 1995.
Over the course of his career, McCoy compiled 150 career wins, which is second on Penn State’s all-time win list, and won two NCAA titles and three Big Ten championships.
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