Mansfield is a mountain in wrestling arena

Darrin Cline

Listed at 6-foot-1-inch and weighing 263 pounds, Taylor Mansfield is rather diminutive by football standards. However, in the world of collegiate wrestling, he is a mountain of a man and a force to be reckoned with.

The former ISU football player is using his final semester of athletic eligibility to rediscover another passion: wrestling.

First Taste of Gold

Mansfield’s athletic acumen can be traced back to his days at Decorah High School. A three-sport athlete, Mansfield began stockpiling accolades and honors. He was a state shot put champion and part of three state-qualifying football teams, earning a 3A runner-up trophy in the 2005 season.

His largest individual honor came in 2006. On his third trip to Iowa’s grandest prep sports showcase, Mansfield captured the class 3A heavyweight crown.

Choosing his adventure

With his prep days behind him, the muscle-bound Mansfield walked on to the ISU football team for much-loved coach Dan McCarney.

“[Playing at a Division I football program] has always been a childhood dream,” Mansfield said. “I knew I’d be walking on but it’s one of those things I needed to know if I could do or not do and that’s what motivated me.”

The hard-working and dedicated Mansfield redshirted in 2006. Plagued by injury, Mansfield would receive a medical redshirt in 2007. Following his recovery, Mansfield changed positions as often as the program changed coaches. He went from fullback to tight end to eventually defensive end during the 2010 season.

“That’s one of the things I pride myself on is my ability to adjust and play wherever they needed me and I was able to help the team or try and make a difference,” Mansfield said. 

Despite weighing upwards of 40 pounds less than most combatants in the trenches, Mansfield battled and split time as a starter on the defensive line.

He was part of one of the most battle-tested groups in ISU history, but his football playing days were now behind him. After five seasons on the gridiron, Mansfield turned his attention to wrestling.

The Transition 

Most athletes go through a rigorous process when selecting schools and what they would like to achieve, but for Mansfield, it was more of a spur-of-the-moment situation.

“It wasn’t until after football season was over that the idea came up and it was a wild couple weeks,” Mansfield said, who credits his family and teammate Kyle Slifka for convincing him to make the transition.

During Winter Break, Mansfield made it official that he would use his final semester of eligibility to wrestle at Luther College in his hometown. Being back in northeast Iowa fueled memories of his high school wrestling career.

Mansfield competed against and defeated current Iowa heavyweight Blake Rasing, as well as current ISU heavyweight wrestler Slifka.

Friendly Foes

“Slifka was a big supporter of the decision and he told me I’d regret it if I didn’t do it,” Mansfield said.

Slifka, Rasing and Mansfield battled each other for conference crowns in high school, with Slifka taking home two and Mansfield nabbing one. When Mansfield won his 3A state title in 2006, Slifka edged Rasing for the 2A championship just a few minutes later. 

Slifka and Mansfield transferred their fierce but friendly rivalry to Iowa State where they both chose to play football. The two lived together throughout college, and seeing Slifka return to the mat sparked Mansfield’s desires.

“I think it killed him a little bit watching me,” Slifka said. “He enjoys being on the mat and I think seeing me go through a similar transition helped him with it.”

Slifka made the decision to use his last full year of eligibility on wrestling. He joined the ISU program and his tenure with the team gave Mansfield the confidence that he could follow suit.

Taking to the mat

Wrestling and football are two very different animals, and Mansfield learned that the hard way. Football is built on quick bursts and explosiveness, but wrestling requires seven minutes of energy.

“They are two completely different sports so the training is two completely different worlds,” Mansfield said. “The hardest part is the physical adjustment. I have to sustain my energy for seven minutes or more so it’s been more learning when to use it so I make it count.”

The training and endurance factors posed a challenge for Mansfield, but technical skills proved to be the biggest area of improvement. His sheer mass and bulk allowed him to beat up on many high school rivals, but the college ranks require a deeper talent base.

“The technique is another big one, and shaking off the rust,” Mansfield said. “I’ve been away from it for so long and I’m learning every day.”  

During his first few weeks at Luther, Mansfield was competing for the heavyweight slot. Not long after, the newest Norse found his rhythm and captured the starting role. As the varsity heavyweight, he completed the regular season at 6-6, a boost for a team whose other heavyweights had combined to go 11-16.

Mansfield’s wrestling journey afforded him a chance to face some of Division III’s top heavyweights. John Helgerson of Wartburg and Alex Burkle of Coe, each maintain spots in the national top 10, provide Mansfield top-notch challenges.

“It’s certainly not an easy spot to be in, but it’s a cool spot to be in a conference like that, one that demands respect throughout the country,” Mansfield said of the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

From earning a starting spot as an ISU walk-on to a varsity wrestling heavyweight at Luther College, Taylor Mansfield defines his athletic career as a unique opportunity.

Each “unique opportunity” has given Mansfield a chance to chase his dreams and rediscover childhood passions that so few have a chance to realize.