(Photo/Richard Immel; RImmelPics.com)
In late 2005, InterMat published an incredible article entitled 20 best high school wrestlers over the past 20 years. In that article, Justin Kerr whittled down an impressive list of high school superstars from 1986-2005 into a top-20. This article became a go-to for fans ever since they have argued about which of these wrestlers were, in fact, the best. Topics like these are generally fun, as there are generally no correct answers. In Justin's article, the number selection (Cary Kolat) is a pretty unanimous pick for the best wrestler during that time period and perhaps, ever. Likewise, our number one is pretty straightforward, but there are plenty of arguments to be made along the way.
One key factor to consider when consuming an article like this is, we are judging these competitors based on their bodies of work during their high school years. Collegiate and Senior-level accomplishments are not considered. As you'll see, a large handful of these wrestlers we've tabbed went on to have plenty of success in college and afterward. A few did not.
With 15 recruiting classes having passed since InterMat's â€œ20 for 20â€, we decided to make another list that will encompass 2006-2020. Below are the five honorable mentions, followed by 25 of the top recruits from that time period. 21-25 have a brief explanation of their high school accolades, while 1-20 has more details, along with their post-high school achievements. After number one, we have other notables that were not included.
Bryce Brill: Class of 2014 (Illinois) - Three-time Illinois champion and top 152 lber in the country. Was ranked higher than Jason Nolf/Bo Nickal coming out of college. Never got on track at Northwestern due to injuries.
Henry Cejudo: Class of 2006 (Arizona/Colorado) - Supreme talent. Was known early in the process he probably wasn't going to college, which hurt recruiting rankings. Won Olympic gold only two years later, in 2008.
David Craig: Class of 2006 (Florida) - Top recruit in 2006. Undefeated in high school and Junior National champ. Qualified for NCAA's three times and made the Round of 12 as a true freshman.
Jason Nolf: Class of 2014 (Pennsylvania) - Three-time Pennsylvania state champion in high school with only one loss. Experienced similar success at Penn State with three national titles and only three losses (one via injury default).
Ben Whitford: Class of 2013 (Illinois/Michigan) - Incredible Fargo performances. Late in the game, there were questions about his status in college. Ultimately, he never wrestled at the DI level. Jumped into the Senior level in 2019 and showed why he was so highly regarded.
25) Scott Winston (Rutgers) Jackson Memorial High School, Jackson, New Jersey
Class of 2008
High School Stats: Three-time New Jersey Champ, Undefeated (Injured as a freshman)
24) Keegan O'Toole (Missouri) Arrowhead High School, Hartland, Wisconsin
Class of 2020
High School Stats: Four-time Wisconsin Champ, 2019 Junior National Freestyle 3rd, 2019 Who's #1 winner, 2018 Junior National Freestyle Champ, 2018 Super 32 Champ
23) J'den Cox (Missouri) Hickman High School, Columbia, Missouri
Class of 2013
High School Stats: Four-time Missouri Champ, 2012 Junior National Freestyle Champ, 2011 Cadet Greco-Roman National Champ, 2011 Cadet freestyle 3rd
22) Alex Marinelli (Iowa) Graham High School, Miamisburg, Ohio
Class of 2016
High School Stats: Four-time Ohio Champ, Four-time Walsh Ironman finalist (two-time champ), 2014 Super 32 runner-up
21) Cohlton Schultz (Arizona State) Ponderosa High School, Parker, Colorado
Class of 2019
High School Stats: Four-time Colorado Champ, 2017 Cadet World Champion (Greco), 2018 Junior World bronze medalist (Greco), 2018 U23 World Team member (Greco) 2019 Junior World silver medalist (Greco)
20) Greg Kerkvliet (Ohio State/Penn State) Simley High School, Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota
Class of 2019
High School Record: 222-36
While the numbers in the loss column far outnumber anyone else on this list, Greg Kerkvliet was able to compete in Minnesota as a middle schooler at the upperweights. As a senior, Kerkvliet was unbeaten and earned the Junior Schalles Award after pinning 21 of 22 opponents. It was his fourth Minnesota state title. Greg's only loss as a junior came when he bumped up a weight class to take on the top recruit in the nation, Gable Steveson (who we'll get to later). On the international front, Kerkvliet made the world finals at the Cadet level, on two occasions, winning in 2017 and taking the silver in 2018.
Kerkvliet originally signed with Ohio State and spent the first semester of the 2019-20 season in Columbus before transferring to Penn State. Initially, news broke that Kerkvliet would not be able to compete in 2021 due to injury, but he was able to make his way back and broke into the starting lineup for the Nittany Lions. Despite being physically limited, Kerkvliet was able to take fourth in the Big Ten and seventh at his first NCAA Championship event. Recently, Kerkvliet went 1-2 at the Olympic Trials.
19) Zain Retherford (Penn State) Benton High School, Benton, Pennsylvania
Class of 2013
High School Record: 131-3
Zain Retherford's 131-3 record in high school seems impressive on the surface, but unreal once you consider that Zain could not compete as a junior due to the PIAA's transfer rules. Even so, Retherford bookended his high school career with state titles, one at Line Mountain while at 103 lbs and the second at Benton, while competing at 138 lbs. Retherford set the tone for an undefeated senior season by claiming a Cadet World Championship in 2012. Later that year, he would win the Super 32 and the Walsh Ironman before finishing 47-0 as a senior.
Simply put, Retherford has been one of the best collegiate wrestlers of the past decade. Zain got the call as a true freshman and handed junior Logan Stieber his final collegiate loss, during dual meet competition. After a loss in the NCAA consolations later that year, Retherford would never be beaten again in college. He amassed a 126-3 record, winning his last 94 matches in a row. Retherford also was awarded the Hodge Trophy as both a junior and senior. During his last three seasons, Retherford's lowest bonus point rate came as a senior when he â€œonlyâ€ did so 83.8% of the time. Zain also made the 2019 Senior World Team.
18) Morgan McIntosh (Penn State) Calvary Chapel High School, Santa Ana, California
Class of 2011
High School Record: 189-5
Morgan McIntosh suffered all five of his high school losses as a 160 lb freshman competing in single-class California. From that point, he did not lose again. McIntosh moved up to 171 as a sophomore, before winning his final two titles at 189 lbs. Nationally, McIntosh won FloNationals twice, along with the Walsh Ironman. Before moving on to Penn State, Morgan moved up to 215 lbs for Fargo and cleaned house with a national title in freestyle.
The 2011 recruiting class was huge for Penn State in establishing themselves as a potential dynasty. The three-time All-American McIntosh was a big part of that puzzle. He took the mat as a true freshman and missed the podium, but came back and AA'ed the remaining three seasons. McIntosh finished as a two-time Big Ten champion and was the top seed at the 2016 NCAA Championships. His lone loss during his senior year came in the NCAA finals to J'den Cox.
17) Andrew Alton (Penn State) Central Mountain High School; Mill Hall, Pennsylvania
Class of 2010
High School Record: 178-8
While most on this list are three and four-time (or more) state champions, Andrew Alton checks in with â€œonlyâ€ two. Alton, along with twin brother Dylan, established themselves as two of the most dominating high school wrestlers during this time. During his two state title seasons, Alton pinned 63 of 91 opponents while competing in deep Pennsylvania brackets. Seven of those eight losses for Andrew came as a freshman, when he went on to take third in the state. On the freestyle scene, Alton won a pair of Junior National titles and was third at FILA Junior Nationals in 2009. The Alton brothers were cornerstones of Cael Sanderson's first full recruiting class while at Penn State.
Andrew competed right away for Penn State and advanced to the NCAA Round of 12 after earning the sixth seed. He only qualified for the national tournament on one more occasion and did not make it to the podium. During his first two years with Penn State, Alton racked up 30 falls. After that, his collegiate career was derailed by multiple injuries.
16) Nick Suriano (Penn State/Rutgers) Bergen Catholic High School, Paramus, New Jersey
Class of 2016
High School Record: 159-0
One of the all-time greats in New Jersey high school wrestling history, Nick Suriano was just the fourth wrestler to claim four NJSIAA titles and the second four-time to finish undefeated (joining future college teammate Anthony Ashnault). Suriano is the only New Jersey wrestler to win four titles individually and add four team titles. Another piece of history for Suriano is his involvement in the longest match in high school wrestling history. At â€œWho's #1â€, Suriano outlasted Daton Fix in a 33-minute bout that featured no time limits in sudden victory. Nick also was a two-time winner at the Super 32. He defeated an eighth-grade Spencer Lee to win the title in 2012.
Nick started his collegiate journey at Penn State and won 16 of his first 17 matches before getting injured in the final dual of the year. He was unable to wrestle in the postseason and later transferred to Rutgers. Suriano made history for the Scarlet Knights by becoming their first national finalist in 2018 and champion a year later. Though he hasn't competed collegiately during the last two years, Suriano does have another year of eligibility remaining.
15) AJ Ferrari (Oklahoma State) Allen High School, Allen, Texas
Class of 2020
High School Record: 96-1
AJ Ferrari spent his first two years of high school in Allen, Texas, where he captured a pair of state titles and won the first of two Walsh Ironman titles. Ferrari spent time at Blair Academy and Bergen Catholic, both in New Jersey, but could never compete in the postseason for either school. On the freestyle side, Ferrari won a Cadet National title at 170 lbs in Fargo before his sophomore year in high school. In 2018, Ferrari earned a spot on the Cadet World Team and returned from Croatia with a bronze medal. An injury prevented Ferrari from competing at the high school level as a senior.
Ferrari took the collegiate scene by storm in 2021 by winning a national title at 197 lbs as a true freshman for Oklahoma State. AJ went 20-1 on the season and finished the year on a ten-match winning streak. Because of NCAA eligibility relief, Ferrari will have four more years of college eligibility in the future.
14) Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) Hilton High School, Rochester, New York
Class of 2017
High School Record: 243-3
The high school Class of 2017 was loaded at the top! Yianni Diakomihalis was regarded as the third-best recruit in that group, one that included Spencer Lee and Daton Fix. Diakomihalis was a four-time New York state champion and closed his high school career with 210 consecutive wins. That put Diakomihalis in select company as one of only seven four-timers from New York. Yianni also joined an elite club by being one of only two US wrestlers to win multiple Cadet world championships. He was the world champion at 58 kg in 2015 and 63 kg in 2016.
Yianni has become one of the biggest stars in college wrestling after winning NCAA titles in each of his first two seasons. Over those two years, Diakomihalis has tallied a 66-1 record. In recording a national championship as a freshman, Diakomihalis was just the second Cornell wrestler (Kyle Dake) to win one in his first year. Diakomihalis has been at the top of the Senior freestyle ladder, as well. He won the 2019 US Open and competed in Final X later that summer.
13) Cody Gardner (Virginia Tech/Ohio State) Christiansburg High School, Christiansburg, Virginia
Class of 2007
High School Record: 182-6
The top recruit in the high school Class of 2007, Cody Gardner, was head and shoulders above his competition in Virginia, cruising to four state championships with 135 falls. Gardner was the victor at the Beast of the East on three occasions and earned a stop sign with a Fargo Junior freestyle title in 2006. He also won a pair of Walsh Ironman crowns. Many of those accolades were won by defeating the late Jared Platt, a Blair Academy star ranked right behind Gardner. The two frequently met in large tournaments.
Gardner stayed local and attended Virginia Tech for a semester. He left the program and later competed at Ohio State, before briefly competing for DIII Delaware Valley in 2010-11. Gardner's college career was disrupted by off-the-mat issues and he passed away in 2016 at 28 years old.
12) Anthony Valencia (Arizona State) St. John Bosco High School; Bellflower, California
Class of 2015
High School Record:
For most of their high school years, Anthony Valencia was the most decorated wrestler than brother Zahid. Anthony was a four-time California state finalist and came away with three titles. Before his senior year, Anthony made the Junior World Team at 74 kg and finished ninth. One of the most notable wins for Valencia came in the finals when he dominated Isaiah Martinez. Anthony was able to take an Olympic redshirt as a freshman at Arizona State based on his success on the Senior level. He was third at the US Open, defeating NCAA runner-up Tyler Caldwell for that placement and followed with a top-eight showing at the World Team Trials. On the high school mats, Valencia was able to win the Walsh Ironman as a junior and senior.
Anthony, along with Zahid, were cornerstones of Zeke Jones' first recruiting class at Arizona State. In 2021, the Sun Devils were able to finish four at the NCAA Championships and earn a team trophy for the first time since the 1990's. Anthony helped the cause by getting onto the NCAA podium for the first time when he finished eighth. That placement could have been higher, but Valencia was slowed by an injury in the quarterfinals. Anthony captured Pac-12 titles in all four seasons he competed for ASU.
11) Jason Welch (Northwestern) Las Lomas High School; Walnut Creek, California
Class of 2008
High School Record: 194-7
Jason Welch was a three-time California state champion and a four-time finalist. He became just the 13th wrestler (at the time) to win three times in California. During his junior campaign, Welch made the trek to Ohio and announced himself as the best 160 lber in the nation with a title at the Walsh Ironman. That same year, he also won the Reno Tournament of Champions. Welch was known for his funk before it became more commonplace at the high school level. In addition to his wrestling prowess, Jason was a star on the football and soccer fields for Las Lomas.
Welch started right away for Northwestern and made the Big Ten finals though he came up two matches shy of the NCAA podium. After a redshirt, Welch finished top-six in the nation the following three years. After winning a Big Ten title in 2013, Welch was the top-seed at the NCAA Championships, but ended up finishing second.
10) Bo Jordan (Ohio State) Graham High School; St. Paris, Ohio
Class of 2013
High School Record: 182-1
Looking back at the high school Class of 2013, it was an extremely talented group, with four wrestlers who won multiple NCAA titles; however, most concluded that Bo Jordan was the top recruit. Jordan was a four-time Ohio state champion and a two-time Ironman champ. In each of those wins, Bo downed the eventual two-time NCAA champion, Isaiah Martinez. While Jordan didn't have the credentials in the international styles, like others on this list, he was excellent against a challenging field in Ohio. Jordan's only high school loss came early in his freshman season, during a tiebreaker situation.
Bo stayed in-state to wrestle for Ohio State and was a four-time All-American. For his first three years, Jordan never finished lower than third place. During his lone NCAA finals appearance, he fell on the strength of a controversial point for a headgear pull. While Jordan was slowed by injuries at the end of his career, he still managed to finish fifth as a senior and was a three-time Big Ten finalist and one-time champ.
9) Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) St. John Bosco High School; Bellflower, California
Class of 2015
High School Record: 158-1
No wrestler on this list had the weight jump like Valencia experienced during his high school career. Zahid was a 106 lber as a freshman and finished at 182 lbs. Between his junior and senior seasons, Valencia jumped from 132 to 182. All the while, Valencia maintained his dominance. His only high school loss came in the state semifinals, his junior year, while wrestling with a broken foot. Valencia became only the second wrestler to win the Walsh Ironman all four years of high school. Zahid took part in the second â€œWho's #1â€ Dual and earned a win over eventual NCAA champion, Myles Martin, in sudden victory. In the summer before he arrived at Arizona State, Valencia made the finals of the Grand Prix of Spain and competed at the Junior World Championships.
Valencia immediately had success at Arizona State, going 38-1 as a freshman, suffering his only loss of the year in the national finals. He would win NCAA titles in each of the next two years. As a sophomore, Valencia went unbeaten and avenged his prior loss to Mark Hall. While at ASU, Valencia made two more Junior World Team's and was able to come home with a silver medal in 2017.
8) Chance Marsteller (Oklahoma State/Lock Haven) Kennard-Dale High School; New Park, Pennsylvania
Class of 2014
High School Record: 166-0
For most of their high school careers, Chance Marsteller was viewed as the top wrestler in the Class of 2014, not Kyle Snyder. Impressive international credentials, ended up giving Snyder the nod. That isn't to take anything away from Marsteller, who went undefeated in Pennsylvania and won four state titles. Marsteller's dominance at a young age drew comparisons to one of his childhood coaches, Cary Kolat, which is the highest compliment possible for Pennsylvanians of a certain age. Marsteller became only the fifth wrestler to finish his career in PA unbeaten. On three occasions, Marsteller was tabbed as the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the Pennsylvania state tournament. He also was a two-time Super 32 winner and earned a place on the Cadet World Team in 2012.
Marsteller signed with Oklahoma State and spent two years wrestling for the Cowboys before transferring back to Pennsylvania and enrolling at Lock Haven. Chance rebounded from some off-the-mat legal issues to finish as a two-time All-American for Lock Haven, taking fourth as a junior and third as a senior. While competing for the Bald Eagles, Marsteller went 72-7.
7) Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) Charles Page High School; Sand Springs, Oklahoma
Class of 2017
High School Record: 168-0
Four state titles and an unblemished mark in high school helped make Daton Fix the most sought-after Oklahoma high schooler in over a decade. Before getting to Stillwater, Fix had a pair of Junior World medals to his name, including gold in 2017. He also earned a bronze at the Cadet level and claimed silver at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games. Also, as a Cadet, Fix won gold medals in both freestyle and Greco-Roman at the Pan-American Championships in 2013 and 2014. Fix's trapped-arm gut wrench made him a match-up nightmare in freestyle at the age-group level.
Due to redshirts and Olympic redshirts, Fix has only seen action in two collegiate seasons since enrolling at Oklahoma State. In both years, Fix has finished as an NCAA runner-up. Daton also added another Junior World bronze to his collection and, in 2019, he unseated World Silver medalist, Thomas Gilman, for his place on the Senior World Team.
6) Mark Hall (Penn State) Apple Valley High School; Apple Valley, Minnesota
Class of 2016
High School Record: 277-4
The unquestioned top wrestler in the Class of 2016, Mark Hall cemented his name in high school wrestling lore by becoming the first wrestler to win six Minnesota state championships. Hall finished his high school career with 171 straight wins and racked up 189 falls. On the freestyle scene, Mark was a Cadet World Champion in 2014 and took third at the Grand Prix of Spain after his junior year of high school. That same year, Hall made the first of his three appearances on the Junior World Team. After graduation and before starting at Penn State, Hall won the first of his two gold medals at Junior Worlds. Hall really solidified his standing at that high school level when he majored Anthony Valencia at Who's #1 in the fall of 2014.
Hall went on to Penn State and was pulled from redshirt during his first year at State College and proceeded to win a national championship. Over the next two year, Hall would lose in the national finals to Zahid Valencia. In 2020, after capturing his third Big Ten title, Hall was the top seed heading into the ill-fated NCAA Championships.
5) Logan Stieber (Ohio State) Monroeville High School; Monroeville, Ohio
Class of 2010
High School Record: 184-1
The lynchpin of a quartet called the â€œMonroeville Four,â€ Logan Stieber led a group of four, four-time Ohio state champions at a tiny school that never previously produced a state champion. As a freshman, Stieber squared off with David Taylor in the finals of the Walsh Ironman at 103 lbs. It was one of the most anticipated matches of the year nationally, and one of the biggest in many years in Ohio. Stieber fell to Taylor, but never lost again versus high school competition, winning his last 179 matches. He also had plenty of success pre-college in freestyle, placing fourth at the Senior World Team Trials in 2009 after taking third at the US Open. That same year, Stieber was a runner-up at the Junior World Team Trials. In 2008, Stieber was a double Junior National champion in Fargo.
Logan Stieber led Ohio State to its only team title in their long, storied wrestling history. Stieber also became the first Big Ten wrestler to win four NCAA titles and only the fourth wrestler to accomplish the feat at the DI level. Up until 2019, Stieber was a fixture on the international scene, making three World Championship team, highlighted by a gold medal at World's in 2016.
4) David Taylor (Penn State) Graham High School; St. Paris, Ohio
Class of 2009
High School Record: 180-2
The â€œBaby-Faced Assassinâ€ David Taylor won a pair of Ohio state titles at 103 lbs, then 112, before hitting a big growth spurt and finishing at 135 lbs. No worries, though. Taylor still claimed his fourth state title and also became the first high schooler to win the Walsh Ironman four times. Before his junior year, Taylor was double Junior National champion in Fargo. He also had a title in both styles as a Cadet to his credit. Also, in the summer of 2007, Taylor won FILA Juniors and competed at the Junior World Championships. Taylor was named the Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award for the 2008-09 season.
David lived up to his top billing in college, making four national finals, winning two titles, and amassing a 143-3 record. In each of his NCAA championship-winning seasons, Taylor earned the Hodge Trophy. Taylor dominated at the 2018 World Championships, which marked the first appearance at the Senior world level for the former Nittany Lion. David just earned a place on the Olympic Team this summer by blanking his competition during the entire Trials process.
3) Spencer Lee (Iowa) Franklin Regional High School; Murrysville, Pennsylvania
Class of 2017
High School Record: 144-1
Spencer Lee was on the verge of becoming only the sixth wrestler to navigate through four years of high school competition in Pennsylvania without a loss. That was until his final match when he wrestled on a damaged knee and fell to future Iowa teammate Austin DeSanto. Even so, Lee finished as a three-time PA state champion. Before that season, Lee claimed a 2014 Cadet World championship and added two more at the Junior level in the following years. Lee was a three-time Walsh Ironman champion and a three-time finalist at the Super 32 (winning twice).
Lee went to Iowa, where he immediately won a national title as a true freshman. He added two more since and also has a pair of Hodge Trophy's to his name. With another year of eligibility remaining, Lee currently sports a 75-5 record and is 30-0 over the past two years. He was also an integral part of Iowa's first team title since 2010.
2) Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) Good Counsel High School; Woodbine, Maryland
Class of 2014
High School Record: 179-0
Junior World Champion (before SR year), Junior World bronze
Snyder put together a 179-0 record despite only wrestling three years in high school. After winning a Junior World title in the summer of 2013, Snyder spent his senior year at the Olympic Training Center. While at Good Counsel, Snyder won three National Prep championships and surrendered only a single takedown during three years of competition. Snyder's battles in Fargo with J'den Cox were legendary. He came away with stop signs in Cadet freestyle and Junior Greco in weight classes that featured the future two-time world champion.
Snyder went to Ohio State and became the first heavyweight to capture three NCAA titles since Carlton Haselrig did so in 1987-89. After his freshman year, Snyder etched his name into USA Wrestling history books by becoming the youngest wrestler to win a world title. A year later, he was the youngest American to win an Olympic gold medal.
1) Gable Steveson (Minnesota) Apple Valley High School; Apple Valley, Minnesota
Class of 2018
High School Record: 210-3
There were discussions when Steveson was a senior in high school that he may, in fact, be the best recruitâ€¦.EVER! I may not be ready to cosign on that opinion, but Steveson is undoubtedly the top recruit since heavyweight Steve Mocco came out of Blair Academy in 2001. Gable won two Cadet World championships and a Junior World title, before his senior year of high school! He joins Diakomihalis as the only two American's to win multiple Cadet World Championships. Steveson's last â€œhigh schoolâ€ loss came in varsity competition as an eighth-grader in the Minnesota state finals. From there, he reeled off 171 straight wins and captured four state titles. The only time that Steveson went to Fargo, he came away with a Cadet freestyle national title.
Through three years of collegiate competition, Steveson has amassed a 68-2 record with undefeated seasons in 2020 and 2021. Steveson is a two-time Big Ten champion and a three-time All-American. He won a national title in 2021 and was the top seed at the canceled 2020 tournament. Earlier this month, Steveson clinched a spot on the Olympic team by dominating two-time world bronze medalist Nick Gwiazdowski.
Other notable top recruits from 2006-20:
2006: Mike Grey (NJ), Lance Palmer (OH)
2008: Mario Mason (NJ), Jordan Oliver (PA), Tyler Graff (CO)
2009: Eric Grajales (FL), Chris Perry (OK), Kyle Dake (NY), Ed Ruth (PA)
2010: Chris Villalonga (NJ)
2011: Destin McCauley (MN), Nico Megaludis (PA)
2012: Taylor Massa (MI)
2013: Adam Coon (MI), Isaiah Martinez (CA), Joey Dance (VA), Anthony Ashnault (NJ)
2014: Bo Nickal (TX), Nick Nevills (CA)
2015: Logan Massa (MI), Vincenzo Joseph (PA), Myles Martin (NJ), Fox Baldwin (FL)
2016: Nick Reenan (TX)
2017: Vito Arujau (NY)
2018: Aaron Brooks (MD), Mason Parris (IN), David Carr (OH)
2019: Carson Kharchla (OH), Andrew Alirez (CO)
2020: Patrick Kennedy (MN), Dustin Plott (OK), Braxton Amos (WV)