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A Saturday night silver lining for Indiana football

Just a few hours after Indiana’s 2017 football team was read its last rites, the future was on full display in Indianapolis.

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NCAA Football: Indiana at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout Indiana’s 31-24 loss to Purdue in Saturday’s Old Oaken Bucket game, and certainly in the aftermath, the disappointment realized this season was setting in for even the most ardent Tom Allen supporters, like myself. For the more pessimistic, it was finally time to release all the pent-up frustration that had been building since the second half of the season opener against Ohio State.

But just a few hours after the final nail was driven into the 2017 Indiana football team’s coffin, the future was on full display at Lucas Oil Stadium in the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s Class 6A State Championship game. The future’s name? Reese Taylor.

Taylor, quarterback of the now 14-0 and State champion Ben Davis Giants, put on an electrifying show in Indianapolis on Saturday night. After Penn High School received the opening kick and punted to give Ben Davis the ball on their own 15, Taylor took the Giants’ third offensive play of the game 76 yards on the ground to paydirt. It was just the beginning of the Ben Davis rout and Taylor’s exclamation point on a season that will end with him being named Mr. Football.

The numbers Taylor put up in the Giants’ 63-14 win were not all of his own doing - more than one of his six (!!) touchdown passes on Saturday night were taken to the house because he had running backs and receivers who were far superior athletes to the Penn defenders. Still, though, Taylor’s 18-for-22 passing for 340 yards and the aforementioned six touchdowns were nothing to scoff at, nor were they solely the result of his playmaking teammates.

Taylor is committed to Indiana as an athlete, not a quarterback. That’s how he was recruited to several schools, including Wisconsin and Iowa, the other two schools in his final three, as well as Purdue, Cincinnati, and Minnesota. When he committed to Indiana in August, Kyle Neddenriep of the Indy Star noted that Taylor will likely play receiver or defensive back for the Hoosiers. That may be the case, but it will be hard for the Indiana coaching staff, in desperate need of a quarterback who can make plays with both his feet and his arm, to not at least consider Taylor.

He finished 2017 with 3,150 passing yards and 41 passing touchdowns, and he tacked on 797 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns. But more than the gaudy numbers, Taylor looks like he has what it takes to play the position. He is decisive when choosing whether to evade the pocket and take off on the ground. He is accurate throwing in all directions. And he has sufficient arm strength to be considered a real dual threat.

There would be questions with Taylor playing quarterback in the Big Ten, undoubtedly. He’s just 5’11”, meaning he gives up three inches to Peyton Ramsey, the frontrunner to be Indiana’s starter in 2018. And with the playmakers he had at Ben Davis, Taylor rarely had to stretch the field and throw over the top of a defense - the deep ball may not be something any Big Ten opponent would worry about with Taylor at the helm.

Still, though, when Hoosier fans become acquainted with Taylor, his quarterback play will evoke memories (but hopefully not unfair comparisons and expectations) of Antwaan Randle El. And isn’t that enough to want this kid to get a shot to play quarterback for Indiana?

But regardless of what position Taylor plays - quarterback, receiver, cornerback - he brings the kind of athleticism and playmaking abilities that Indiana will desperately need as the program moves forward and tries to regroup after a disappointing 2017 and the coming losses of Simmie Cobbs, Rashard Fant, Chase Dutra, Tegray Scales . . . and the list goes on. That’s why he’s the future. And if Taylor’s final performance as a Ben Davis Giant was any indication, the future will be better than Saturday was.