Cam Taylor went from playing quarterback in high school to playing key third-down moments against Wisconsin and key third-quarter moments against Michigan State at cornerback. All in the span of a year.
Nothing about this has gone by-the-book, but that’s pretty much Taylor. He’s unique, both as a football talent and as a young man.
Those of us who make predictions and write such things as “10 Players to Watch in Year X” are, as head coach Scott Frost maybe-lovingly-maybe-not jokes, almost always wrong. We leave out guys we shouldn’t have missed. We focus on guys who don’t have as big an impact as previously expected. Taylor, the Montgomery, Alabama, product, fell into the former as a freshman last season.
No one really knew what to expect from the kid until fall camp started and all we heard defensive backs coach Travis Fisher talk about was the guy who used to play quarterback and now just plays all over the secondary. Taylor appeared in 11 games. He embraced special teams. He spelled two mainstays at corner. He finished his first year with 12 tackles (eight on defense), three pass break-ups and a fumble recovery.
“Every kid we recruit we hope has enough talent to come in and compete as a freshman,” Frost said at Big Ten Media Days last Thursday. “Usually talent isn’t what determines if they play, it’s maturity and whether or not they really get after it. I’ve seen really talented freshmen come in and dip their toe in the water and take their time learning Xs and Os and scheme and as talented as they are, they don’t play. And I’ve seen other guys, the first time they step on the field as a freshman, they’re full-speed attacking, they handle their business like pros and those are usually the guys that play.”
Which do you think Taylor was?
“I feel like I had to come in and be that mature freshman, not the childish freshman,” he told me at the Nebraska Football Road Race, where he looked a guy completely comfortable in his place on the team.
Taylor was dancing, Taylor was running with 5k participants as they crossed the finish line, he was in the tunnel that runners ended through, giving high-fives and encouragement. Taylor is a guy — as a true sophomore — others already look up to. He’s a guy others listen to, even those older than him.
Comfort in the playbook has helped tremendously. He’s confident on the field now, so he can just be himself. Frost talked about the defense being more comfortable knowing keys and responsibilities, and how that allows them to be freer and faster on the field, and that’s exactly what has taken place for Taylor.
He has reached a point where, say, if junior corner Dicaprio Bootle — the Big Ten’s leader in pass break-ups last season — isn’t doing what he’s supposed to be doing on the practice field, Taylor feels perfectly fine getting him right.
“For a fact. I feel like I’ve earned the respect and I respect them,” he said. “You know, we’re teammates, we’re brothers. We’re supposed to get onto each other, so if I’m messing up, I expect them to get on to me. Same for D-Cap, if he’s messing up I’m going to get on to him.”
You just don’t typically see too many second-year guys comfortable enough within their games and their units to be able to do that. Not that Bootle has needed correcting this offseason, that’s not the point, but that Taylor has the respect of his upperclassmen already is something of an accomplishment.
Coaches tell Taylor about new recruits coming to campus. He’s one of the team’s best peer recruiters. They don’t feed him any lines or micromanage what he’s going to talk to kids about, rather they trust him enough to talk with kids, be real with kids and be an extension of themselves.
This summer Taylor went to lifting groups that weren’t his own — Nebraska has it broken into four sessions to make the roster size work within the space constraints of the current set-up — and coached up younger guys.
“Just to watch,” he said. But also to encourage. “Get onto them and help them with their form, just because they’re going to be in our group some day and we need them to be right.”
Nebraska has high hopes for Taylor. He’s magnetic and he’s uber-talented. The strength staff loves him, his coaches love him, his teammates love him, and if there are fans out there who don’t already, they too will love him soon.
“Cam Taylor will be a great player, I promise you that,” linebacker Mohamed Barry said. “I could see him have a potential breakout season this year.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.