SOLON — There is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Clark Kent and Superman, too.
Hayden Taylor doesn’t fit either mold but the Spartans’ state champion has his own dual personality, transitioning from congenial, mild-mannered teenager off the wrestling mat to a high-powered, tenacious competitor on it.
The goal is to break opponents with a fast-paced aggressive style and leave a lasting impression.
“I want the kid walking off the mat just thinking ‘that kid’s a psycho,’” Taylor said, “‘and I never want to wrestle him again.’”
Taylor has left foes feeling exactly that this season, posting a 28-0 record and extending his win streak to 52 straight matches. He is ranked second in Class 2A at 145 pounds and has his sights set on claiming a second state crown.
“I feel the season has gone well, so far,” said Taylor, who has 16 pins, three technical falls and a major decision. “Obviously, there is stuff I need to improve on.”
Taylor said he maintains the approach to prove himself each day. The focus isn’t to defend anything and to win one this year, attempting to become the first to win two titles at Solon.
“I still have to fight for everything and nothing is going to be given to me,” Taylor said. “I have to work hard in the room to get another one.”
At the heart of Taylor’s success lies a strong work ethic and a passion for the sport. Solon Coach Blake Williams said Taylor arrives for practice before everyone else and can be found staying after to do extra with teammates. He also trains with Sebolt Wrestling Academy, which is run by former Centerville four-time state champ T.J. Sebolt.
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There is no place he’d rather be and he is a good example for younger athletes, according to Williams.
“He’d be in a wrestling room all day, if you let him,” said Williams, praising his improvement in leadership, weight control and dual preparation. “He can’t get enough. Wrestling has been a big part of his life. You can see he loves it.”
The sport is demanding, but he embraces the grind. Taylor enjoys the life lessons that can be developed with effort.
“Whenever things get tough in wrestling, I think it teaches you to man up and push through it,” said Taylor, who also plays football. “Just knowing the end goal if you keep working hard it will al pay off for you in the end.”
Taylor joined the Little Spartans Wrestling Club when he was 6. Those early years weren’t filled with immediate success, but things picked up when he took the sport seriously in middle school. He earned success at the AAU level and started traveling the country to compete.
Solon coaches recognized the potential, but Taylor said he didn’t know what to expect at the varsity level.
“I was a freshman and unranked,” Taylor said. “Once I got a taste of what high school wrestling was about I felt I could win it all from the start, if I kept working hard throughout the season.”
Williams was impressed with his first tournament — the Cliff Keen Independence Invitational — where his only loss was to Lisbon three-time state champion Cael Happel.
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“We found out early he can compete with the best of them,” Williams said. “He just kept getting better and more confident. I think that’s what separates him from others.”
Williams has witnessed Taylor’s ability to flip the switch from low-key to intense when he straps on his headgear.
“He can turn it on and when he puts his foot on that tape he’s ready to go,” Taylor said. “I’d say he is always on the attack. He’s at his best when he’s wrestling at a high pace. When he does that, he can wear guys down.”
Taylor harasses foes with an attacking approach on the mat. He is a dynamo on his feet, but showed he can apply a strong ride, like he did tallying nine nearfall points in a 15-0 technical fall in just 4:45 of the state semifinals against Adel ADM state champ Andrew Flora.
“He’s pretty solid in all three positions when he wants to be,” Williams said. “Definitely, on his feet is where he’s most comfortable.”
Coaches and Taylor flirted with the idea of dropping to 138, but elected to remain at 145. He is bigger, stronger and healthier than a year ago, concentrating on refining his technique over cutting weight.
“I feel like I can just focus on always getting better and not have to worry about that aspect of it,” Taylor said. “I just have to work on the little things, like finishing shots and different finishes. I am just tuning everything up before it’s the big show.”
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