September 15, 2008

Kelvin Taylor reminding many of his dad

Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Day football coach Pete Walker sized up Kelvin Taylor the moment they met while the youth was touring the private school last year as a seventh-grader.

Now, Taylor – a 5-foot-11, 205-pound eighth-grader and son of Jacksonville Jaguars All-Pro running back Fred Taylor – is the starting tailback on Walker's varsity team, which is ranked first in the state in Class 1A. Taylor, 14, transferred to Glades Day from West Palm Beach's Jeaga Middle School in January.

Like Father, Like Son analyst Barry Every was able to see Kelvin Taylor at the Underclassman Combine in Atlanta last spring. The evaluation of the younger Taylor sounds similar to a scouting report on his father. "It is hard to believe that this rising eighth-grader is already this skilled and physically developed. He sas a lot of high school football ahead of him, so he really needs to stay focused on being the best he can and staying healthy. This apple did not fall far from the tree."
"As soon as he came into the school, I looked at his body and felt like he could play varsity football," Walker said. "In my mind, I'm thinking I am going to give him a shot, and if he is able to handle it mentally – because he has it physically – then I'll keep him up. If not, I was going to have him play JV."

Taylor rushed for 103 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries in his varsity debut last week against Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna and will get more carries now that senior running back Brandon Dean is out for the season with a knee injury.

At this rate, coaches across the Sunshine State will know of "Bebé" – his teammates' Spanish nickname for him in place of "Baby Taylor" – before his freshman year, and it won't be based solely on his family tree.

Chaminade-Madonna coach Tim Tyrrell didn't even realize Taylor was an eighth-grader, or that he was Fred Taylor's son, until after the game last week - a 28-3 victory for Glades Day.

"He's the best tailback in the country for his age," said Tyrrell, in his first season at Chaminade after six seasons at Canton (Ohio) St. Thomas Aquinas. "He already looks like his dad."

Jeaga didn't have a middle-school football program, so at this time last year, Taylor was playing in a recreational league – the Western Communities Football League in Palm Beach County.

Glades Day appealed to Taylor because of its academic reputation and because it offered a chance for Taylor to play varsity football as a middle-schooler for a program that two years ago won the Class 1A title. The Florida High School Athletic Association allows junior high students to participate in varsity sports when they attend school in the same building as the high-schoolers, which is the setup at Glades Day.

As soon as Taylor started classes at his new school, he joined the football team in its after-school workouts. He wasn't intimidated by being the youngest in the weight room.

At the start of spring practices, Walker felt Taylor was ready to compete at the varsity level. He currently is the only eighth-grader on a roster that also features just one freshman.

"We had him in the running backs group and he was doing drills, and I saw he had good feet," Walker said. "Whenever we started doing our team offense in practice, he jumped right in there and ran the ball well. Right off the bat, he was reading blocks and cutting off of them, and he was doing some things everyone can't do."

Taylor is a power runner with a 40 time of 4.68 seconds - nothing remarkable among the speedsters of south Florida, but still impressive for his age. His greatest strength, Walker said, is his ability to see the field and make cuts at full speed.

"He has great vision and knows when to cut," Walker said. "He is able to see a little crack where you wouldn't think there is one."

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People already are comparing Taylor to his dad, but he hopes to make a name for himself.

"I wish it was just me only that they would talk about, but it doesn't bother me," said Taylor, who admits he was nervous for his first varsity game until after three or four plays, when he realized he could handle it.

Taylor credits his dad for teaching him how to make good reads and stay humble, but he doesn't necessarily pattern his style after the way his dad plays.

"I play my own game," he said.

However, everything else about Taylor shows the pride he has in his dad. Taylor wears the same jersey number, No. 21, that Fred Taylor wore at perennial power Belle Glade Glades Central and at Florida.

And his favorite teams are the Jacksonville Jaguars, where Fred Taylor has spent all 11 seasons of his pro career, and Florida, where his dad played from 1994-97. He often sports Jaguars paraphernalia at practices.

Taylor grew up knowing he wanted to play football, just like his dad. He started playing at the age of 7, and it is his only sport.

"I always wanted to play football when I was little," said Taylor, who watches his dad play almost every week. "He just told me to go out and try it."

Though his dad played linebacker his first two seasons of high school, Taylor has played only running back. He is listed as a linebacker on the team roster because he has the skills necessary for the position, but Walker said Taylor will just be used on offense. "Playing an eighth grader on one side of the ball is good for him right now," Walker said.

Taylor still has things to learn, including the lesson that not every run is going to be a touchdown, though he had 20- and 30-yard carries for touchdowns last week and a 60-yard touchdown run in a preseason game against Royal Palm Beach.

Walker doesn't see any reason his young star can't go on to enjoy a successful career like his dad.

"He has a natural talent – there's no doubt about it," Walker said. "If he stays focused and keeps getting better, the sky is the limit for him.

"He has not arrived yet, but he is in a good spot right now."

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