After graduating from Wasatch High in 1997, Sanderson competed at Iowa State (ISU). He redshirted the 1997–98 season. As a redshirt freshman, Sanderson won all 39 matches and the NCAA title at 184 pounds (83 kg). He became the first freshman in NCAA tournament history to be named the NCAA Wrestling Team Championship's most outstanding wrestler. Sanderson was also undefeated in the 1999–00 season, going 40–0 and winning another NCAA title. He also won the Dan Hodge Trophy as the nation's most outstanding college wrestler. He was the first underclassman to win the Hodge Trophy. In the off season, he won the World University title in Tokyo, Japan. As a junior, Sanderson went 40–0, raising his record to 119–0. He broke the prior record, held by Iowa State alumnusDan Gable, of 98 consecutive wins. He was also named outstanding wrestler in the NCAA tournament and was the first two-time winner of the Dan Hodge Trophy. Sanderson's 2001–02 campaign was a coronation of sorts. He again went undefeated at 40–0. He became the second wrestler to win an NCAA Division I individual title four times, the first being Pat Smith. He also won his third Dan Hodge Trophy as outstanding wrestler. Sanderson set an NCAA record with 159 straight wins. His success brought attention even from non-wrestling fans. Sanderson was the first wrestler since 1988's "Wheaties Search for Champions" winner, Sammy Chagolla, to be featured on Wheaties cereal boxes for his achievement. His final college accomplishments were a record of 159–0, 4 NCAA titles, 3 Dan Hodge Trophy awards, 4-time NCAA Outstanding Wrestler, and 4-time Big 12 Conference Champion.
Sanderson won a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece as well as a silver medal at the 2003 World Wrestling Championships. Sanderson also would have represented the United States in world competition in 2002. However, citing security concerns, the American freestyle team chose to not compete that year. In 2011, Sanderson came out of retirement and placed fifth in the world. By 2011, however, he was the head coach of the wrestling team at Pennsylvania State University, and could only train when his coaching responsibilities were taken care of. On April 17, 2009, Penn State named national wrestling legend Cael Sanderson as its 12th head wrestling coach and immediately the nation looked East. Since that time, the wrestling landscape across the country has changed as Penn State has claimed seven of the last eight NCAA and numerous Big Ten regular season and tournament titles, all while crowning numerous individual champions and maintaining the highest of academic standards.
A career begun in the Midwest... At just 29 years old, Sanderson came to Penn State after three very productive years as the head coach at his alma mater, Iowa State. Sanderson’s teams did not finish any lower than fifth at the NCAA Championships and he never had a wrestler not qualify for nationals, getting 30 of 30 grapplers through to the championship tournament.
After graduating from ISU in 2002, Sanderson spent 2003 and 2004 as a special assistant in the athletic department at Iowa State before joining the ISU coaching staff as an assistant coach in 2004-05. He was promoted to the assistant head coach position the next year and then became the Cyclones’ head coach for the 2006-07 season.
In 2007, during Sanderson’s rookie campaign, he led ISU to a 13-3 dual meet record and the first of three straight Big 12 Championships. An outstanding NCAA runner-up finish in Detroit capped off a wildly successful year as the Cyclones crowned one national champion and Sanderson was honored as Big 12 Coach of the Year, National Rookie Coach of the Year and National Coach of the Year. The next year, Sanderson led ISU to a 16-4 dual meet mark, another Big 12 title and a fifth place finish at nationals. Iowa State’s seven All-Americans in 2008 were the most at the school since 1993.
In 2009, Sanderson’s team went 15-3 in duals, won its third straight Big 12 title and took third place at the NCAA Championships in St. Louis (just 12 points out of first place). The Cyclones also crowned another National Champion. In three years at Iowa State, Sanderson’s teams went 44-10, won three conference crowns, qualified all 30 wrestlers for nationals, earned 15 All-American awards and two individual national titles.
A move East and a rapid ascent... His first season at Penn State was solid. Sanderson led Penn State to a 13-6-1 dual meet record, much improved over the prior year’s 8-12-2 mark. After a year outside the Top 10, Sanderson led the Lions back to their place among the nation’s elite with a ninth place finish at the NCAA?Championships and a No. 10 final dual meet ranking from the NWCA Coaches. Sanderson picked up three more All-Americans (including a national finalist) and a Big Ten Champion in younger brother, Cyler Sanderson.
In 2010-11, Sanderson reached the pinnacle of the collegiate coaching mountain by guiding Penn State through a stunning season filled with records, championships and memories that thrilled the Penn State faithful. Sanderson led the Nittany Lions to their first-ever Southern Scuffle Co-Championship and first Virginia Duals Championship since 1991. While guiding Penn State to a 6-1-1 conference mark, Sanderson equaled the highest Big Ten dual meet wins in Penn State history (1998). He led Penn State to the school’s first ever Big Ten Championship and was named 2011 Big Ten Coach of the Year. He became the first coach in NCAA history to be named both the Big Ten and Big 12 Coach of the Year. Saving the best for last, he led the Nittany Lions to the 2011 NCAA?National Championship in Philadelphia, Penn State’s first since 1953 and Sanderson’s first as a collegiate head coach.
During the 2011-12 season, the nation watched as Sanderson led Penn State to a 13-1 dual mark, including a school record 7-1 Big Ten dual record to earn a share of the 2012 Big Ten dual meet championship. Sanderson then made it two in a row by leading Penn State to the 2012 Big Ten Championship at Purdue. He was named 2012 Big Ten Coach of the Year, earning the honor for the second-straight season. Two weeks later, Sanderson led Penn State to a second straight NCAA crown, helping Penn State to become the fifth team in NCAA history to win back-to-back titles. He was named NWCA National Coach of the Year for the second time in his career at the conclusion of the championships in Des Moines.
In 2012-13, Penn State posted an identical 13-1 mark, 7-1 Big Ten dual record and won its third-straight Big Ten Championship in Illinois in March. Sanderson earned his third straight Big Ten Coach of the Year honor (co) in the process. Two weeks after that, Sanderson guided Penn State to a thrilling third-straight NCAA crown, helping Penn State to become just the third team in NCAA history to win three-straight team titles. At the tournament’s end, he was named NWCA National Coach of the Year.
In 2013-14, Penn State went 15-1 overall and won a share of the Big Ten dual meet title with a 7-1 record. The Nittany Lions won their fourth-straight Big Ten Championship in Madison, Wisconsin, helping Sanderson win his fourth-straight Big Ten Coach of the Year honor. Two weekends later, the Nittany Lions won their fourth-straight NCAA title, becoming the third team in NCAA history to win four-straight NCAA titles.
In 2014-15, Sanderson led Penn State to an 11-4 dual meet record, a fifth-straight Southern Scuffle title, garnering five All-Americans and another individual National Champion at the NCAA Championships.
In 2015-16, he added a sixth-straight Southern Scuffle championships, a third Big Ten dual meet title (co-) and the 2016 NWCA National Dual Series championship. He led Penn State to its fifth Big Ten Championship in six years in Iowa City and followed that up with his fifth NCAA National Championship in six years in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
In 2016-17, Sanderson led Penn State to its second-straight NCAA title and sixth in seven years. Penn State posted a perfect 14-0 dual meet record, won the 2017 Big Ten regular season (dual meet) title and the NWCA Dual Championship Series crown for the second-straight season. Sanderson’s team posted a gaudy 35-6 record at NCAAs and won five-straight individual championships to close out the national finals. In 2017-18, Sanderson led Penn State to its seventh NCAA title in eight years and third- straight. Penn State posted a perfect 14-0 dual meet record and won the Big Ten regular season (dual meet) title yet again. Sanderson’s team posted a superb 39-9 record at NCAAs. Penn State ended the season riding a 45-dual win streak and set an NCAA record for attendance at an indoor dual meet with 15,998 in the BJC for a win over Iowa.
In nine years as Penn State’s coach, Sanderson led the Nittany Lions to seven Southern Scuffle titles, five B1G dual meet titles including this year’s, five Big Ten Championships, seven of the last eight NCAA Championships, collected 51 All-Americans, 20 National Champions including an NCAA record-tying five in 2017, four Gorriaran winners, four NCAA Tournament Outstanding Wrestlers, one CoSIDA Academic All-American of the Year, one NCAA Elite 89 winner, one NCAA Top 10 Award winner and four Hodge Trophy Winners. Sanderson, who has coached 66 total All-Americans and 22 total National Champions (including his three years at Iowa State), grabbed his 100th win as Penn State’s head coach in its 36-6 victory over Stanford in Rec Hall on 11/13/16.
A coaching career after the most storied collegiate wrestling career ever... To this day, Sanderson is considered the most dominant collegiate competitor in NCAA history. In four years, Sanderson never lost. From 1999-2002, Sanderson posted a 159-0 career record (going 39-0, 40-0, 40-0 and 40-0); won four individual National Championships; won four Most Outstanding Wrestler awards at the NCAA Championships (the only wrestler in NCAA history to do so); became the first freshman in NCAA history to win the Outstanding Wrestler honor and won three Dan Hodge Trophies as the nation’s best collegiate wrestler (also a collegiate first). He wrestled his first three years at 184 and then moved to 197 as a senior.
The four-time All-American’s four-year streak of perfection was called the No. 2 most outstanding achievement in collegiate sports history by Sports Illustrated. The NCAA called his final win (in the 2002 NCAA 197-pound championship) one of the NCAA’s “25 Defining Moments” for its Centennial celebration. His wrestling career culminated in 2004 when the Heber City, Utah, native won the 84 kg Olympic Gold Medal in Athens, Greece.
THE SANDERSON FILE
Full Name - Cael Norman Sanderson Birthday - June 20, 1979 Birthplace - Provo, Utah Hometown - Heber City, Utah Alma Mater - Iowa State ‘02 Spouse - Kelly Children - Tate, Teag
* 2007 NWCA?Coach of the Year * 2007 Big 12 Conference Coach of the Year * 2007 Amateur Wrestling News Rookie Coach of the Year * 2007 RevWrestling.com Coach of the Year * 2011 Big Ten Coach of the Year * 2012 Big Ten Coach of the Year * 2012 InterMat National Coach of the Year * 2013 Big Ten Coach of the Year (co) * 2013 NWCA Coach of the Year * 2013 W.I.N. Magazine Coach of the Year. * 2014 Big Ten Coach of the Year * 2016 Big Ten Coach of the Year * 2016 InterMat National Coach of the Year * 2017 InterMat National Coach of the Year * 2018 InterMat National Coach of the Year * Only person in NCAA history to earn both Big Ten and Big 12 Coach of the Year honors * Coached 22 National Champions (20 in 9 years at PSU) * 66 All-Americans in just 12 years (51 in 9 years at PSU) * 107 of 120 of his wrestlers qualified for NCAAs * Coached 24 Big Ten Champions in nine years in the conference.
AS A WRESTLER...
* The only wrestler in NCAA?history to never lose a bout over four years * Four-time NCAA?National Champion * Four-time NCAA?Most Outstanding Wrestler * 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist * 159-0 as collegiate wrestler * Four-time Big 12 Champion * Sports Illustrated called unbeaten streak #2 most outstanding achievement in collegiate history * Three-time Hodge Trophy winner * Final NCAA?win named one of 25 Defining Moments by NCAA * ESPY?Award for Best Male Collegiate Athlete * ESPN?SportsCentury special on his career * One-time appearance on Wheaties cereal box