Nothing has gone as planned for junior cornerback Reese Taylor during his first two years at Indiana.
Except that in ways that matter, things have gone exactly as planned.
“Right now, I’m playing corner, but wherever Coach Allen needs me, that’s where I’m going to be at,” Taylor memorably said before his freshman season.
He had no idea.
An Indiana Mr. Football winning state champion high school quarterback, Taylor arrived in Bloomington in 2018 knowing that he would never play that position in college — until he took on the emergency quarterback role late in his freshman season.
That was after Taylor started his freshman campaign at cornerback — before permanently moving to the offense in week two. There, as a receiver and running back, he collected 28 receptions for 174 yards, and rushed 15 times for 83 yards.
Taylor knew that the learning curve transitioning from offense to defense would be steep, but he actually saw the field at corner during the first game of his IU career in 2018 against Florida International. The potential was clear early. But Taylor also made big plays on offense that night, and the decision was made to utilize his play making skills with the ball in his hands.
The versatile 5-foot-11 Taylor moved back to defense as a sophomore, and he was slated to be the punt returner in addition to his other duties in 2019. That was until a fall camp injury derailed those plans.
After getting healthy in 2019, Taylor became a regular on the Indiana defense as sophomore. And by the end of the year he was at the top of the depth chart at corner for the Gator Bowl.
How can a player with so little experience and so many detours make such a sudden rise?
His position coach believes it is a combination of things, including that time spent at quarterback.
“Reese brings some intangible things that a lot of people can’t do,” cornerback coach Brandon Shelby said. “Very rarely do you see a guy that can go from playing offense and then six months later transition to a corner and really be effective. One thing you see from him is you see a tough guy who understands football. He’s a good leader because he communicated as a quarterback.”
Despite being so inexperienced at the corner position, the trust from the coaching staff is obvious. Taylor was on the field late, and made the game clinching interception on the road against Maryland. Later he earned his first start of the season at Purdue.
Having worked his way up to the top of the depth chart at corner, now Taylor finds himself in a different position.
No longer the young inexperienced player trying to learn his trade, Taylor now has up and coming teammates looking to knock him off his perch.
That’s a situation that Shelby believes Taylor is well equipped to handle.
“He’s been a guy that’s kind of always been in the limelight. He likes competition,” Shelby said.
Of course Taylor’s latest challenge is not unique to him.
Grounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, Taylor and his teammates lost most of their spring repetitions along with training with new strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman.
Those were spring reps that would have been highly valuable to Taylor. And the time in the weight room and training with the performance staff is no small thing for him either.
Adding weight has been a challenge for the 185 pound Taylor since he arrived at IU, as has staying healthy.
“The big thing is he has to make sure he does a great job of keeping his body healthy,” Shelby said. “Throughout the season he had several little lingering things that happened out of nowhere. They just kind of kept him out of taking that next step.”
Despite the injuries and position changes during the first two years, Taylor has somehow still managed to earn a starting role at corner.
And what Shelby saw out of Taylor during the abbreviated spring informed him that nothing is being taken for granted.
That’s just not Taylor’s style.
“We had four practices before spring break, and he is ready to take off and be a focal point in the secondary,” Shelby said. “I’m very excited about Reese Taylor.”
The next challenge for Taylor when the Hoosiers return to the field will be to transition from an up-and-comer to a leader on the defense.
“I think with a year of playing corner, he’s going to have a summer of learning the playbook and not just learning what corners do, but start to figure out what everybody is doing and where everybody goes,” Shelby said. “When you yell out a check, what does that mean to everybody else? I think he’s ready to take that step and I’m expecting him to.”
That all sounds similar to the job of a quarterback, and thus a role that Taylor is well equipped to take on.
And really, at this point, who is doubting him?
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