UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State's Lorenzo Wrestling Complex was nearly empty an hour before the Nittany Lions' scheduled practice on Tuesday, save for a few familiar faces.
Ed Ruth was jumping rope between sessions with former Penn State great Quentin Wright. David Taylor was just around the corner giving a stationary bike all it could handle. As the elliptical bike's gears screamed under Taylor's ferocious pedaling, Ruth took Wright to his back before they ended their session.
Moments later, sweat dripped from both Ruth and Taylor's chins as they reflected on the last five years and looked forward to the last five weeks of their careers. Seniors, Taylor and Ruth will wrestle their final bouts inside Rec Hall when Clarion travels to Happy Valley for a 2 p.m. dual on Sunday.
“People the last four years, they look at your stars and that's what they kind of associate with the way your team wrestles,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “If you look back over history, too, you're always judged by your stars and how they compete and I think they've given us a very good name and reputation and that helps us with recruiting kids that want to wrestle like David Taylor and Ed Ruth, and want to come to Penn State. And obviously, those are the kind of guys we want.”
Taylor seemed to know this from the get-go. As a high school star, he yearned for it — a chance to wrestle in the same lineup as Ruth, an equally vaunted prospect who had spent his last year of high school starring for Blair Academy in New Jersey.
Ruth remembered the first time he spoke with Taylor and thought the two wouldn't end up in the same collegiate lineup. The former St. Paris Graham star called Ruth from Ohio and tried to convince him to come to Iowa State, where Taylor was set to wrestle for then-Cyclones coach Cael Sanderson.
“I just remember saying, ‘Man, you know how good we could've been if we were on the same team,'” Taylor said.
But Ruth, a Harrisburg native, was committed to Penn State and then-coach Troy Sunderland.
“He almost got me, he was really convincing,” Ruth said. “I was like, ‘Oh man. Oh geez.' He was like, ‘Don't you want to reach your full potential?' I was like, ‘Yeah, I really do.' Everything he said he made me believe it.”
Seeing is believing, and it didn't take long for Taylor's hope to become reality.
Dominos fell after Penn State struggled to an 8-12-2 season and 17th-place finish at the 2009 NCAA tournament. Sanderson was hired to replace Sunderland, and Taylor followed Sanderson east where Ruth was waiting.
“It turned out I was on his team,” Taylor said.
After taking redshirt seasons, college wrestling's most dominant duo came bursting out of the gate. In their first dual meet against Bloomsburg in 2010, Taylor and Ruth made identical debuts. They dominated with 20-5 technical falls to spark Penn State to a 41-3 win.
Not much has changed since then, except to the chagrin of their opponents, each man has gotten better.
So far, Taylor and Ruth have combined for three individual national championships, six All-America seasons, and have led Penn State to three Big Ten titles and a 57-4-1 dual meet record. They've dominated nearly all of their opponents in earning bonus points in 216 of 257 — or 84 percent — of their matches combined.
Most importantly, Taylor and Ruth have combined to earn bonus points in 20 of 32 matches in the NCAA tournaments over the last three years. Penn State has won team titles all of those years.
“You've got to have freshmen and sophomores doing really well, and I think that's why our teams have done well,” Sanderson said. “Those guys were obviously national title contenders and dominant, scoring bonus points at the nationals as freshmen, and it's just continued on.”
Sanderson paused to think of a duo that's been as consistently dangerous over the last few years.
“I think you just have to look back at the teams that have won national championships,” Sanderson said. “Before us, Iowa was winning. They had (Brent) Metcalf and (Jay) Borschel and a number of good guys. Before that, Minnesota, Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State won three in a row and they had Pendleton, Rosholt and Esposito. So I think you just look at history and it kind of shows you, you need those great leaders and the guys that are consistent and really, the guys that are able to win as freshmen.”
By comparison, Metcalf and Borschel — who both transferred to Iowa and sat out a year — combined to earn bonus points in 64 percent of their combined bouts.
For Taylor and Ruth, the competition isn't limited to their opponents. They're highly competitive with one another. This season, they've taken to trying to outdo one another with their wardrobe choices. Namely, each wrestler has sported a different pair of colorful socks for each match.
“Ed gets a pin, I want to get a pin,” Taylor said. “I think that's something that's really driven us in our careers, having each other to push each other all the time. One way or another, we're out there scoring points for our team and it's been something that's hard for other teams to match.”
But their mutual admiration for one another is evident.
Both wrestlers took time to talk to reporters together on Tuesday. Each man was asked what makes the other one so good. Neither of them had to hesitate.
“(He's) a technical beast,” Ruth said. “Just somebody that knows his way around every position. I've seen his legs all up in the air and every which way, and he still scores a takedown. I don't really see too many wrestlers doing that.”
Taylor, who won the Hodge Trophy as college wrestling's best two years ago, beat out Ruth, who finished second in the balloting for the sport's version of the Heisman.
“(He's) one of the best wrestlers that I've ever been able to sit and watch,” Taylor said. “Not only have I wrestled, but I've been a fan here. For my fifth year of being a fan, I've never seen anyone do the things that Ed can do. Unbelievable. When you're talking about the best wrestlers of all time, Ed's right there at the top of those lists.”
And while there are only a handful of weeks left in their collegiate careers, both Taylor and Ruth have already made plans for the future.
Like Wright, who's now a member of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, Taylor and Ruth plan to stick around and train with Sanderson, Jake Varner and others as members of the NLWC next season.
And like it was in high school, it's Taylor's vision that he and Ruth will be on the same U.S. National team together. Ruth shares that outlook and cracked a big grin as Taylor laid out his future plans. Afterall, they're exactly the same.
“I'm here trying to win an Olympic title in 2016,” Taylor said. “It's been a goal of mine since I was eight. Ed's got the same goal, so we'll still be on the same team and try to accomplish the same things.”