SUWANEE - After getting embarrassed by Peachtree Ridge's Kendall Albert in the finals of the Gwinnett County wrestling tournament last year, Taylor Knapp was left with a choice.
He could either continue to be the second-best wrestler in his weight class or he could get a lot better.
Knapp chose the latter and it paid off tremendously. The Collins Hill wrestler defeated Albert in the Region 7-AAAAA championship, but more importantly defeated him a week later in the state finals.
"We came off a big road trip. I did really well out in Kansas City and I thought I'd come back here and have it a little easier," Knapp said. "Then (Albert) whopped up on me pretty good. After that I really got back in the weight room and wrestling room and started working pretty hard."
Knapp beat the two-time state champion Albert 6-3 in the Class AAAAA finals of the 135-pound weight class to win his first state title. The junior now has his sights set on another title this season.
"I'd like to see him win state again," Collins Hill coach Cliff Ramos said. "He's one of those kids that feels like he can beat anybody."
Collins Hill traveled to Kansas City last season to compete in the prestigious National Wrestling Classic. Knapp went 6-2 at the tournament and placed fifth. With wins against some of the top wrestlers in the country, Knapp figured Georgia competition would be a breeze.
Albert proved otherwise.
The Peachtree Ridge wrestler gave Knapp the worst loss in his wrestling career, beating him 15-0. It was the first time Knapp had ever been beaten by technical fall.
"A lot of kids would say I got beat 15 to nothing, I'm never going to beat this kid. Well that just made him want to do better," Ramos said. "He closed the gap in a hurry."
The two met two weeks later and Albert won again 6-4, but a major improvement from the first time. However, Knapp never lost another match the rest of the season as he reeled off 19 straight wins to finish with a 42-5 record.
"Right then I knew I needed to work harder because he wasn't going to roll over," Knapp said. "He wanted to get his third (state title) as much as I wanted to win state."
Knapp got the best of Albert in the Region 7-AAAAA finals, winning 5-4. Both wrestlers cruised through the state tournament to set up a fourth meeting in the state championship. Knapp once again got the best of Albert when it mattered most with a 6-3 victory to secure his first state championship.
"I just kept telling myself that I wasn't going to lose no matter what," Knapp said.
Knapp carried the momentum of his state title into the offseason. He won the National High School Coaches Association summer nationals in Myrtle Beach and placed fourth at the Super 32 last month.
With victories against some of the top wrestlers in the country, Knapp is beginning to draw interest from several major colleges. His older brother Thomas, who was three-time finalist and won state in 2004 for Collins Hill, is now wrestling at Gardner-Webb.
"One thing it's done for him, it's kind of put him on the national scene with college coaches," Ramos said. "He's probably received 20 letters this year already. He's been ranked for juniors anywhere from top 10 to 15 in the country in his weight class."
The junior has proved himself to be one of the top wrestlers in the state. Knapp posts an 87-9 high school record and is 60-5 against opponents from Georgia. His only losses are to Mill Creek's Bobby Lewis, Albert twice and Parkview's Ryan Galloway once.
After placing third as a freshman, Knapp became the 11th different state champion and 19th overall at Collins Hill. The title put him in an elite class in the Eagles history.
"We've had a lot of state champions. He has a shot to be a three-time state champion. He's definitely right up there with the best wrestlers we've had. The Tyler Parkers, David Brunsons, Nick Lukacs, he's right up there with those."
Despite his success last season, Knapp still has plenty of goals for the season. He'd like to finally win a county title and maybe go undefeated. Another individual state title is on the list as well and Collins Hill has the opportunity to compete for a team title.
And who knows, maybe another match against Albert will be in the works this season.
"I guess now everyone is gunning for me," Knapp said. "Everyone is going to know who I am, so it's going to be pretty tough this year."