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Calm approach
Eagles' Knapp stays level-headed despite success

There's not a lot that phases Taylor Knapp. Over the summer when he was escorted by college wrestling coaches around campus, his response was simple.

"That was cool," Knapp said calmly.

When he wrestled freestyle over the summer for the first time in his life, the Collins Hill senior saw it as a way to get better.

"It was different, but it was a good experience I guess," Knapp said.

Even when he was recently ranked as one of the top wrestlers in the country out of thousands of wrestlers, the honor didn't phase him.

"Ehh, it's a good accolade I guess," Knapp said modestly. "You can't really look back and say you're pretty good until you're No. 1."

And that's what separates Knapp from other wrestlers. No matter how much success he's had, he still doesn't think he's that good of a wrestler. It's a mentality that has helped transform him from a state placer to state champion.

"He really doesn't brag. He's not too boastful about it," Collins Hill coach Cliff Ramos said. "He's not going to go around bragging about his accomplishments, that's for sure.

"He loves wrestling, that's what he does."

After taking third at the state tournament as a freshman, Knapp had a breakout season in 2007. He was embarrassed by two-time defending state champ Kendall Albert 15-0 at the county tournament, the worst defeat in his high school career. Knapp defeated Albert for the Area 7-AAAAA title later that season and the following week won his first state championship by beating Albert again.

Knapp went into last season as the state title favorite and didn't disappoint, dominating the state meet to win his second state championship and leading the Eagles to another state crown. Even more impressive was his 59-1 record, which included dozens of matches against out of state opponents.

This year Knapp doesn't have to prove himself to anyone. Everyone in Georgia already knows he's the top wrestler in the state at any weight in any classification.

Everyone knows that except Knapp.

"I guess it feels good when you put it like that, but I really don't feel like that," Knapp said. "I feel like there's always someone better to beat and I'm the underdog. Right now, I'm looking at the college room and I'm going to be right back at the bottom of the totem poll. I never really felt like I was the top dog or anything like that. You can always get better."

Knapp spent the summer competing in various tournaments. He wrestled freestyle for the first time at the prestigious national tournament in Fargo, N.D. He also went to several wrestling camps with the Eagles, including one at Virginia Tech where he was given a special campus tour by Hokie coaches.

Knapp signed with the ACC school on Wednesday, choosing Virginia Tech over Maryland and Old Dominion.

"I just felt like it's a really good fit for me. The guys are close knit and it kind of reminded me of Collins Hill," Knapp said. "I've been good friends with Peter Yates for a while and he's up there and that influenced me a lot. The coaches are just great coaches."

So what's left for a guy that holds a 146-10 career record, won two state titles, a team state championship, beat some of the top wrestlers in the country and has a college scholarship secured?

Well, a lot if you're Knapp.

"I want to go undefeated. Win state is No. 1, win state as a team and have a couple more state champions on our team," Knapp said. "I want to go undefeated and ultimately be No. 1 in the country, but that's a long shot."

Knapp is ranked No. 11 in the country by Wrestling USA and an undefeated season was one of his goals last year and it seemed unrealistic, but he finished with just one loss. It will be tough for Knapp to go undefeated this year, considering Collins Hill's schedule. The Eagles will compete in out of state tournaments like the Midwest Wrestling Classic, The Clash and Battlefield Duals, which are some of the toughest high school tournaments in the country.

But that's what gets Knapp excited, a chance to see what his team can do against the nation's best and what he can do personally. And who knows, a great showing could make Knapp and Collins Hill among the best ever in Georgia.

"It's definitely a possibility, but we don't look to that," Knapp said. "That would be great after the season to sit back and say "wow, we were the best.'"

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