Categorically speaking, Northwestern had no identifiable reason to recruit Jayme Taylor. On his various national scouting pages, Taylor is listed as a tight end – a good, old-fashioned, blocking, catching (but mostly blocking) tight end. Northwestern doesn’t use tight ends. It has its own unique position, superback, one that just so happened to accentuate Taylor’s best attributes more than his own position description.
At The Woodlands High school, Taylor played a position that required him to tackle a similarly vast range of responsibilities. His decision to choose Northwestern, then – to sever ties with the standard “tight end” label by which other schools targeted him – was easy.
“The position I played in high school was similar,” Taylor said Sunday. For the curious prospective high school prospect, a quick glance at Northwestern’s position chart can be somewhat perplexing. Taylor instead saw an opportunity to continue the success that began in high school, when he helped lead The Woodlands to a Region 2 5A championship in 2011.
Watching former Wildcats superback Drake Dunsmore during his unofficial visit last July gave him video evidence to latch onto. “It made my decision easier,” he said. The biggest takeaway from that visit, for all the comfort provided by discussions and instructive film sessions with superbacks coach Bob Heffner, was the feeling he got walking around campus, mingling with future teammates and sitting down with head coach Pat Fitzgerald.
“It felt like I was at home,” he said.
How could a tight end from Houston, Texas, feel at “home” in a city 1,000 miles and about eight levels of climate separation away? The weather part is easy to trace: Taylor hails from Syracuse, New York, and moved to Texas in eighth grade. The prospect of facing the occasional snowstorm and below-freezing winter day didn’t cloud Taylor’s judgment.
“I’m pretty used to the cold weather,” he said. “It wasn’t a factor.”
The person that left the biggest impression on Taylor, that helped give him the confidence to commit right after returning to his hotel room during his unofficial visit, was Fitzgerald. Taylor’s first description of the coach spoke wonders about Fitzgerald’s ability to not only connect with high school prospects on a personal level, but use Northwestern’s academic status – which, for most casual observers, stands as a perceptible barrier to bringing in top talent – as a complementary bonus few BCS schools can objectively match.
From Baylor to Notre Dame to Texas A&M, esteemed programs with BCS aspirations all, Taylor met a score of reputable college coaches throughout his high school years, but only one of them was “unlike” any other he had ever met before.
“He really values character and academics,” Taylor said of Fitzgerald. “Just the way he talked about it all, I knew playing there would pay off in the future.”
When he steps on campus this summer, Taylor will worry less about the future, and focus on the huge opportunity in front of him. Just last season, he saw true freshman superback Dan Vitale (Taylor’s visit host) evolve into one of the Wildcats’ top offensive weapons. Having Vitale teach him about NU, the team, and the superback position during his visit was one thing. Watching him flourish on national television was a confidence-building development Taylor couldn’t help but enjoy.
“He was awesome at superback,” he said. “He was a team player, he blocked, he ran routes, caught passes. It was pretty exciting to watch.”
For his first year as a Wildcat, Taylor would love nothing more than to get on the field and help the Wildcats take the next step towards a Big Ten championship. Vitale’s performance last season gives him the confidence to make that a reality.
On a broader level, Taylor just wants to make the Wildcats better – be that as a scout team denizen, a special teams ace or a key reserve in the superback rotation.
“I just can’t wait to be a part of this team,” he said.
An inability to make the first-team roster won’t fall on Taylor’s failure to comprehend the gritty schematic nuances of his new position – superback won’t be a radical change – or the typical first-year college homesickness, or even a startling encounter with his first trademark Chicago winter day.
He decided on Northwestern because he wanted to play superback. Evanston gives him offers the homey environment. A childhood spent in upstate New York inured him to chilly weather. He understands exactly what he’s walking into, what he’s leaving behind, and the great opportunity – in the class room and the football field – that lies ahead.
This is what Taylor signed up for.