Wrestling has been a significant part of Taylor Venz's life since he was a young kid, starting when he was first exposed to the sport early on in life. Since then, Venz's love for wrestling has only increased year by year and led him to where he is today-a standout athlete on the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers' wrestling team. This past season, Venz was named an All-American, qualified for the NCAA Championships where he took fourth at 184 pounds and was named the Huskers' Most Valuable Wrestler.
"I started when I was in kindergarten and I loved it," he said. "Ever since it's been my favorite sport. I played other sports but wrestling was my favorite and by the time I got to high school it was the only sport I played."
Today, athletes face intense pressure to specialize in one sport in order to improve and potentially earn a collegiate scholarship, while at the same time being told that they have to play multiple sports. For Venz, who dabbled in different sports up until high school, it was all about his love for wrestling.
"In middle school I did track, but I would have to miss it for freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, so I chose wrestling over the other sports if they were at the same time," he said. "It was an easy choice, too. I know other sports are good for you, but for me I would rather wrestle than do anything else so it was an easy choice for me."
Venz, a 2016 Farmington High School graduate, was one of the best wrestlers in Minnesota during his prep career. After wrestling some matches on varsity as a seventh-grader, the next season he was a full-time starter. He was a finalist at the state tournament all four years of high school and won state championships as a freshman (106 pounds) and as a senior (182 pounds).
Venz said that growing up he knew he was one of the best wrestlers around, even if the results did not always reflect that. But it was not until high school that he thought he could excel on the national stage.
"When I was young I wasn't necessarily the best, it was little steps that made me think that I belonged in this group of elite wrestlers, even if I wasn't winning right away," he said. "In practice or at tournaments I could get takedowns and I was wrestling well, so if I worked a little harder then I could get there, I could get to that next level."
During high school Venz trained at the Pinnacle Wrestling School in Roseville, which he gives a lot of credit to for the wrestler he has become today. He said it was primarily through Pinnacle that he first began to draw the notice of college programs, a dream he had since childhood.
"When I was young I watched college wrestling and thought that I wanted to do that, I just didn't know if it would be Division I, DII or DIII," he said. Once I got to high school I knew I wanted to go DI, I would rather go to DI and not start than go DII or DIII. I loved practicing hard and having a room full of studs, which is what I got used to as a kid. Once I got older I knew I could go DI and possibly start, so it was a pretty easy choice for me."
Venz said that the four schools he took visits to were the Air Force Academy, University of Northern Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska. He said that Nebraska was very impressive and his experience so far has been even better than he expected.
"Nebraska, with the way that they trained and the lifestyle they have setup for all the student athletes as a whole was great and they really sold it well," Venz said. "But since I've gotten here, it's been an even better experience than I imaged, both outside of wrestling and in wrestling."
Venz said that what struck him most about the difference between high school and collegiate wrestling is the intensity.
"I knew coming into college that it would be real tough and I was going to get my butt kicked for the first year, but really the training and the practices (were the biggest difference)," he said. "We do the same amount of drilling, the same amount of live and the same amount of conditioning. I had a great group of seniors, and a lot of my partners were seniors in my first year, who showed me the ropes and how to drill. Honestly the biggest jump was the intensity of drilling, in high school guys go through the motions more, and I did too, and once you get to college that's not really acceptable."
Venz redshirted his freshman year and wrestled in several open tournaments as an unattached wrestlers with his fellow freshmen. He said it was a valuable experience as after getting beaten routinely in practice, it allowed he and his teammates to get some competition experience and build their confidence. This past year as a redshirt freshman, Venz was 29-9 in the regular season. He said that after a great start he struggled some during the Big 10 dual season but turned it around in time for the Big Ten and NCAA championships, where he took fourth in both.
"At the end of the year I improved a lot on bottom, that was probably my biggest struggle area for most of the season when I wasn't wrestling well," Venz said. "I wasn't getting away on bottom but by the end of the year I wasn't wasting too much time down there, I was getting away and getting reversals. I think I improved in all areas over the last year.
Heading into next season, Venz is all in.
"My goal is to be a Big Ten champ and a national champ next year," he said. "I'll be working on all three areas, on my feet I want to be dominant and get quick takedowns. I'm pretty good on top now, I want to expand my attacks on top and my turns and be more dominant. I really just want to be the best wrestler in the top position in the country next year and not wasting time on bottom."