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A History Of Penn State Wrestling’s Max Dean

Entering his seventh year of eligibility heading into 2023, Max Dean is an athletic anomaly.

At the start of his career, Dean graduated high school high off a 41-0 record his senior year. The standout wrestler then made his way to Ithaca, New York, to begin his college career at Cornell University.

Following his brother, Gabe Dean, was easy, as Max chose his alma mater to start his collegiate career. Gabe Dean was an NCAA Champion for the Big Red in 2015 and 2016 before graduating a year ahead of his brother coming to New York.

Max Dean then began his campaign in 2017 by attaining a 32-6 record and earning eighth place in the NCAA Tournament while also becoming an All-American that year.

His sophomore year in 2018-2019 saw even more success, as Dean notched a 25-6 record and was the runner-up for the NCAA Tournament at 184 pounds. Dean also earned first-team All-Ivy League honors with a unanimous vote.

Dean’s third year of college brought on another endeavor — the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. According to the NCAA rules, wrestlers are allowed to train with their collegiate team but are not allowed to compete in order to preserve that year of eligibility, essentially being a redshirt player.

Three other members of Cornell’s roster also opted for this year off in 2020, which then made a turn for the worst. While training for Tokyo was the main focus for Dean, it quickly got shut down with the rest of the world in March 2020.

In the same way that COVID-19 ruined opportunities for people worldwide, Dean was unable to compete for the second year in a row after the Ivy League canceled its 2020-2021 season. He then used his redshirt to preserve his eligibility again for the season.

As a result, Dean found himself in a tough position to stay with the Big Red or move on to another institution to continue his athletic career with two years left.

Dean then shocked the wrestling community when he landed on the powerhouse that is Penn State over rivals Michigan and Michigan State in May of 2021. The announcement came in a unique way from his brother Gabe, via a podcast called “Beyond the Fight”.

“He’s at Penn State now,” Gabe Dean said. “He’s going to be training and wrestling there.”

After an extremely successful first season as a Nittany Lion going 23-1, Dean found himself in a position to win the national championship in March 2022.

Dean’s most important performance to date in his career then happened in Detroit. He started with an intimidating walk to the mat for the championship bout, accompanied by “Maxwells Silver Hammer” by the Beatles blasting in Little Caesars Arena.

Being the fifth and final member of the Blue and White to take home the trophy in March, Dean immediately turned around and jumped into the arms of head coach Cael Sanderson before going up into the stands to celebrate with his family.

Erin Sullivan | Onward State

The first-time national champion then talked about how he found purpose through his first season as a Nittany Lion.

“I remember thinking before the season even started, ‘If I don’t start… If I don’t ever win a match… I’m just lucky to be here,’” Dean said. “Their perspective on life — I think that’s why they are so successful — is just so next-level.”

Leading into the now-2023 season, Dean also had a huge accomplishment in his personal life by getting married to his long-time girlfriend Hannah Toai. He is also planning to finish his degree in economics this academic year.

The 197-pound powerhouse has already attained a 5-0 start in his second season in Happy Valley and was crowned the champion of the Black Knight Open on November 20 at Army with two pins.

Just three duals into the season, Dean is already on track for another monumental year.

Dean and the Nittany Lions will continue their 2023 campaign at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, December 2, against Rider University in Trenton, New Jersey.

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About the Author

Mara McKeon

Mara is a sophomore staff writer majoring in English and public relations. She loves all things sports and anything that has peanut butter. You can usually find her obsessing over country music and counting down the days until she gets to see Luke Combs at the Linc. Feel free to reach her on Twitter @MckeonMara, and for more formal affairs, her email is [email protected]

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