July 1, 2016
ANN ARBOR – With the temperature pushing 100 degrees, Kurt Taylor Jr. runs up and down the bleachers at the 8,500-seat stadium at Grayson High School.
He wears an elevation training mask that inhibits his breathing – just to push himself a little further – before running through drills designed to improve his speed and explosiveness.
This, by the way, is an off day for his team.
Taylor is already committed to Michigan. That, however, hasn’t slowed down the 2017 three-star running back from Georgia who lives by his father’s favorite saying.
“Hard work is undefeated,” Kurt Taylor Sr. said. “If you work hard and you put the right amount of effort into life, you’ll be successful. He bought into it.”
Taylor, 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, was the third player and first running back to commit to coach Jim Harbaugh’s 2017 class. He picked the Wolverines over Mississippi State, Indiana, Illinois and others. He didn’t reach the decision hastily and committed on Oct. 16, 2015, following multiple visits to Ann Arbor.
“Just the atmosphere,” Taylor said of his decision to pick Michigan. “They’ve got the best fans. There’s just a certain feeling you get when you go. It’s a feeling I got from Michigan that I fit very well for the offense and I’ve got a good relationship with the coaches and Coach Harbaugh. I love it up there.”
FROM FIFTH STRING TO ‘THE GUY’
Taylor began his prep career at Newton High School in Georgia and was hardly an instant impact player. In fact, he was the fifth-string running back and spent his freshman year as a backup on the junior varsity team. Taylor rushed for 462 yards and four touchdowns as a backup on the varsity team his sophomore year before exploding for more than 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns last season while averaging nearly seven yards per carry.
“He has worked himself tremendously into the person that he is today,” said Terrance Banks, his former coach at Newton, prior to Taylor’s transfer to Grayson. “He’s come from being fifth string at running back to ‘The Guy.'”
Newton runs a pass-heavy spread offense and Banks said Taylor was the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher in at least 15 years.
“He’s the definition of a back, because of the way he works, that gets better as the game goes on,” Banks said. “It’s hard for teams to want to tackle him 20 times a game. He’s low and he’s compact and he’s a bowling ball once he gets started.”
Taylor’s push up the depth chart to featured back isn’t really a surprise, given his pedigree. His father was an undersized, 5-9 point guard but went on to play at Hawaii and eight years professionally, including stints overseas as well as in the United States Basketball League and NBA Summer League.
“I always outworked the opposing guards,” Taylor Sr. said. “That’s what always had my mindset going – I don’t care how talented you are, you’ll never outwork me. That’s what made me propel into the athlete that I became.”
The younger Taylor has embraced that mindset with a tireless work ethic. He lifts and practices with his Grayson teammates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, then stays after for extra work. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he meets with a personal trainer. Saturday workouts include stretching and yoga and Sunday is a day off. Taylor can bench press 405 pounds, squat 585, power clean 310 and leg press 900.
“I think that the greatest thing he has is his work ethic,” Banks said. “There are going to be guys every school signs, probably including Michigan, who are probably faster than him, who are probably going to be bigger than him, but (Michigan) is going to get a kid that’s a hard worker and that’s a solid football player. He catches well, he blocks well, he runs hard. At the end of the day, there’s something to be said for that.”
NEW SCHOOL, NEW CHALLENGE
After spending his first three seasons at Newton in Covington, Ga., Taylor transferred to Grayson in Loganville, Ga., which is about 24 miles away.
“Everything is just a better situation,” Taylor said. “I want to enroll early in college. If I stayed at Newton they wouldn’t let me enroll early, but if I go to Grayson they would let me.”
Grayson coach Jeff Herron got his first look at Taylor on film and was impressed. Then he saw Taylor in person.
“When he started working with us this summer, it’s been a different animal,” Herron said. “He’s a very impressive young man. He’s extremely strong in the weight room, he works extremely hard. Every coach on our staff, I think, has been amazed by his ability.
“We’re out there in shorts right now, but you can tell it’s just natural for him. He’s got vision, he’s got balance, he’s got strength and he’s a great kid. More than anything, coming into a new situation like he is with us, that’s what’s impressed me the most. He’s quiet, he just works hard and does what he’s supposed to do.”
The switch to Grayson represents a new challenge for Taylor, who will be on a team loaded with talent that’s also No. 2 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 preseason national rankings. Herron, who is entering his first season coaching Grayson, says about 15 players on his roster have Division I offers. That includes four-star quarterback Chase Brice, who is committed to Clemson, and four-star cornerbacks Deangelo Gibbs and Jamyest Williams, who both hold an offer from Michigan.
“I think it’s a win-win for him and us,” Herron said. “Kurt gets to compete against quality people every day in practice and he gets to compete on Friday nights against some really good people this year too. Our schedule is horrendous, but I think that’s part of the draw. He wanted that challenge.”
Michigan fans will have the opportunity to watch Taylor’s first game for Grayson. The Rams open the season at home against Florida powerhouse IMG Academy, which is ranked No. 4 in the nation, on Aug. 26 in a game that will be televised by ESPN.
“I’m really looking forward to that game,” Taylor said. “That’s the come-out game right there.”
Herron expects Taylor to get more carries this season than last year, due to Grayson’s run-first offense, before heading off to Michigan. Taylor is one of three running backs committed to the 2017 class, to go with four-star O’Maury Samuels and three-star A.J. Dillon. He compares himself to Michigan senior running back De’Veon Smith and embraces the challenge with his fellow 2017 running backs.
“It will be both ways,” he said. “Of course in college you’ve got to compete to get a spot and still working together and getting better.”
Taylor Sr. — who earned a master’s degree, runs an executive protection business and is a reserve police officer — stressed academics and earning a scholarship as the top priorities for his son. Taylor, who has a 3.5 GPA and plans on majoring in sport management, already accomplished the latter. He doesn’t care about star ratings or the fact he’s ranked the No. 51 running back in the 2017 class, according to 247 Sports. Taylor simply plans on continuing to follow the example his father has long stressed.
“I could see myself just working hard, competing, being the best I can be,” he said of his future at Michigan. “Just work hard to win.”