Reese Taylor was who you thought he was until he wasn’t.
He starred at quarterback for Ben Davis High School, making highlight play after highlight play, leading the Giants to not just a state title but recognition as one of the best teams in the nation and putting up numbers so absurd it seems like he was a video game create-a-player with the difficulty set too low. At the beginning of his senior season he committed to IU, then proceeded to amass nearly 4,000 all-purpose yards and 54 touchdowns in 14 games, more than enough to win Indiana Mr. Football.
Despite that success, he was labeled as an “athlete” on recruiting sites. “Too short” to play quarterback at 5’11”, he was expected to move to a position that fit his physical profile but boy, was there excitement about the potential of Taylor shredding his way through Big Ten defenses on the way to the endzone. Then there wasn’t.
Taylor came to IU as a cornerback. He was going to play defense. He wasn’t going to be shredding his way through Big Ten defenses at all, he’d be a part of one. Then he wouldn’t.
In late August of last year, just days before IU’s season-opener against Florida International, head coach Tom Allen announced that Taylor would move back to quarterback, a move almost certainly made in reaction to the departure of grad transfer QB Brandon Dawkins. He was back on offense. Perhaps he was destined to be an offensive dynamo in Bloomington after all.
Sept. 1, 2018. The Hoosiers are in Miami to play Florida International. The Golden Panthers take an early lead after picking off a wayward pass from Peyton Ramsey, but IU is driving on its second offensive series.
First and 10. Just under eight minutes left in the quarter. Taylor lines up in the slot to the quarterback’s right. He hops and turns, moving toward the center of the formation in what’s best described as a fast jog. Ramsey snaps the ball, hands it off and Taylor takes off. He doesn’t pick up much speed as he turns upfield, looking for a seam to make his move. Then something goes wrong. Cole Gest, Taylor’s lead blocker, practically whiffs as FIU safety Richard Dames flies in and smacks the ballcarrier, but the freshman doesn’t go down. Taylor spins off the would-be tackler and cuts laterally, moving across the field and picking up speed as the play-by-play announcer belts out the words “BIG POP MEANS NOTHING,” a phrase just as memorable as the play itself.
He reaches the far sideline and runs past another Golden Panther, leaving him reaching for a tackle he’ll never make. Finally, after slicing through the defense to the tune of 32 yards, Taylor steps out of bounds in the process of dodging yet another defender. On his first touch as an Indiana Hoosier, Taylor has taken a play that could’ve, probably should’ve, gone for zero yards and made it a highlight. The play ends up being the second-longest from scrimmage for IU on the evening.
In one play, Taylor made himself known to any fans who may not have had him on their radar coming into the season. He showed exactly why he was so successful in high school — the speed, the elusiveness, the ability to take nothing and turn it into something. With that one play he captured the imagination of Hoosier fans.
The unfortunate part of that play is that it ended up being the highlight of Taylor’s year. He wouldn’t break a run or catch for a gain of more than 22 yards for the rest of the season. He wouldn’t total more than 42 yards from scrimmage in a single game for the rest of the season. He wouldn’t find the end zone at all.
This could be the result of multiple factors. The first possible answer, the one that I’m inclined to believe, is DeBordian in nature. Perhaps the Hoosiers simply didn’t use Taylor in the correct ways or with the correct volume, after all his usage oscillated. Here are his offensive total touches, game by game, from last season: five, five, five, two, seven, three, seven, four, two, one, one, one.
If you had the lingering feeling that Taylor relatively disappeared as the season neared its close, it’s because he did. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t the first talented player to go missing at times during the Allen era (hello 2017 Simmie Cobbs).
The fact of the matter is that in the final four games of the season Taylor received five touches, all in the passing game. The potential gamechanger was more often than not reduced to a spectator or a blocker in the biggest games of the season, the ones down the stretch as the Hoosiers were trying to reach the postseason.
Another possible reason for that drop in production, one that should be considered at least, is that Taylor simply wasn’t good enough to make it happen again. He got lucky with a big play against a Conference-USA opponent and once he started lining up against Big Ten-level players things were different. The problem with this theory is that Taylor’s small sample size in the conference wasn’t half bad! Three carries for 26 yards against rutger, one carry for nine yards against Ohio State and one carry for six yards against Iowa doesn’t jump off the screen at you, but it certainly seems like it could be worth giving him a few more carries. He had a season-high six catches against Iowa for 28 yards and that was his peak as a receiver, but he also had four grabs for 27 yards against Penn State and one catch for 22 yards against Michigan. Not bad!
Despite the flashes that we saw from Taylor that’s all we got, flashes. We couldn’t really get much more considering his usage was as low as it was at times. Because of those flashes, the roster and coaching turnover that occurred over the offseason and the fact that he had months to get in the gym to improve there was optimism that Taylor would be a breakout player this season for the Hoosiers, who would lean on him a little more as a weapon. That, like many conceptions surrounding Taylor during his short time in Bloomington, went to the wayside suddenly.
Earlier this month Allen made another announcement regarding Taylor. The rising sophomore is back to playing cornerback. He spent the offseason transitioning back to the defensive side of the ball and entered camp as a second-stringer. On the depth chart recently released by IU, he was once again listed as a second-string CB. In fact, it was the only place that his name appeared on the two-deep as he wasn’t even listed on it in either returner spot.
He’s fully committed to playing cornerback, which appears to be a decision that he supported. That’s great for him, as it is nearly any time an athlete gets to make the decision that’s best for them. Perhaps with this switch he’ll be able to reach his potential as a football player. After all playing cornerback appears to be his easiest path to a starting spot as soon as next season as well as possibly a professional career further down the road. He should get plenty of reps this season, as IU secondary coach Brandon Shelby has indicated, which will help with that.
Taylor has one year down at IU. The kid from Indianapolis has been jerked around like a rag doll with no certain role, but now perhaps he’s found his home in this program. Despite that, don’t assume that you know what’s going to happen as his career progresses because the second that you do things will turn a different way.
Heading into the 2019 season he’s possibly the most intriguing player on campus. He’s possibly one of the best playmakers on the roster, but he’s playing defense. We’ve simultaneously known and not known what he would be as a Hoosier this whole time. He’s an enigma.