A DIFFERENT BREED: Four-year star linebacker York willing to do whatever it takes to help Temple win
HOME TURF: The Temple Wildcats are 21-1 in District 12-6A play during the last three seasons with Taurean York at middle linebacker. Now a senior, the first-team all-state player and two-time 12-6A Defensive MVP aims to help Temple advance past the second round of the Class 6A playoffs. Baylor commitment York made a career-best 141 tackles last season and plans to add running back to his duties this year before he graduates in December. Coach Scott Stewart's Wildcats begin the season against McKinney at noon Saturday at McKinney ISD Stadium. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
In many ways, Taurean York is a normal high school kid. He works hard on academics and plans to attend college. He likes playing football. He enjoys spending time with family and friends. And he’s a devoted fan of the popular Netflix series “Stranger Things.”
But in so many other ways, the incoming Temple High School senior linebacker and running back is, well, just different.
Start with the fact that York became the Wildcats’ starting middle linebacker – playing Texas Class 6A football – in 2019 when he was only 14 years, 2 months old and went on to lead them in tackles and share District 12-6A’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year award.
Now add the fact that his Temple teammates voted him a captain entering his sophomore season, almost a year before he could legally drive.
Mix in the fact that York was selected as 12-6A Defensive Most Valuable Player as a sophomore and as a junior for two unbeaten district championship squads, earning first-team all-state recognition in 2021 after collecting a career-high 141 tackles to push his career total to 315 stops.
And consider the fact that the 6-foot, 215-pound York is on track to graduate this December at 17½ and move to Waco to enroll early at reigning Big 12 Conference champion Baylor, whose football program he verbally committed to on Feb. 5.
However, all that stuff is public knowledge. For York, who ranks near the top of his 2023 class academically, there’s more to his story.
Last Nov. 19, York and Temple lost 45-33 to Rockwall-Heath in a 6A Division II area-round playoff game in Burleson. It was the Wildcats’ second straight second-round defeat against the high-powered Hawks, who popped them 56-28 in 2020.
After the rematch last fall, York was so disappointed that upon finally returning home well past midnight, his next stop wasn’t collapsing into a comfortable bed for an extended slumber.
No, it was studying video of the Rockwall-Heath game all night long, followed by an early morning on-field practice with a small group of fellow Wildcats.
“You know, I didn’t sleep the night we lost to Rockwall-Heath. We got back (to school) about 1 o’clock, I got home about 2 and showered up and I just started watching the game, like, ‘Where did we go wrong with this?’” York recalled last Thursday afternoon in one of Temple’s large meeting rooms. “I watched the offensive side. I watched the defensive side. I watched special teams.
“By then, I looked up and it was 6 o’clock. I went and picked up (current senior teammates) Jaylon Jackson, Julian White, Ka’Morion Carter and Aiden Malsbary. We were out there on the field at 7. My body’s aching, but I felt like it had to be done.”
Throughout this summer, Temple’s program had regular weekday workouts that began at 7 a.m. It’s impressive enough for a high school student-athlete to rise early and report for those workouts on time, but York – not surprisingly – took commitment to another level.
“Every single morning that we had morning workouts in the summer, we start at 7. Taurean’s up here at 4:30. I usually get here about 4:45. Not one time did I beat him here,” Temple seventh-year head coach Scott Stewart said. “And he’s out there running what we call the Goat Ranch, that top field. He doesn’t do it where everybody can see him. But everybody knows he’s doing it, because everybody who pulls into the parking lot, including myself, sees his car sitting right out front.”
Since Temple began preseason practices Aug. 8, York has continued to do his extra running sessions in the darkness at 4:30, well before the Wildcats’ meetings start at 6:30. He said he’s invited teammates to join him, but 4:30 obviously is a tough sell even for dedicated players.
“They trickle in. If I start at 4:30 and practice starts at 6:30, they come in about 5:50. I’m already in a full sweat and I don’t want to get thrown off my rhythm,” York said. “I challenged everybody, but actions speak louder than words. If you see me out here . . . I’m never going to ask someone to do something that I never did. So if I’m asking you to come do it with me, it’s because I’ve done it probably multiple times.”
PUTTING IN THE WORK: Temple senior linebacker Taurean York is known for wanting to break down video as soon as possible after each game. The fourth-year starter has regularly come to campus at 4:30 a.m. this summer to run extra wind sprints in an effort to increase his endurance as he seeks to also play running back this season. The Baylor commitment has led the Wildcats in tackles three consecutive seasons, including as a 14-year-old freshman, for defensive coordinator Dexter Knox and linebackers coach Chris Pilot. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
There is a major reason why York has devoted so much time to improving his physical conditioning entering his senior season, which begins with Temple’s opener against McKinney at noon Saturday at McKinney ISD Stadium.
After playing defense and special teams throughout his first three high school seasons, York plans to also play a significant amount of time at running back this year following the graduation of three-year star running back Samari Howard (Army West Point), the Wildcats’ all-time leader in touchdowns and points scored.
York will be part of a backfield that includes senior Deshaun Brundage, who is York’s cousin, juniors Jervonnie Williams and Rymond Johnson and sophomore Adrian Scott.
“If I played in the range of 60 to 80 plays (per game) last year, I expect to play 120 to 140 plays this year. That’s the first thing my dad told me: ‘Dude, if you’re going to be playing all three phases of the game, you’ve got to work on your endurance,’” York said. “That’s why Coach Stewart talks about those wind sprints at 4:30 in the morning. It’s not like I’m out there because it’s fun. Well, it’s fun to me, you know, but not for anybody else.
“It’s because I need to have that endurance to play all three phases. I wouldn’t want it any other way. That’s the time to do it.”
With only one season remaining in Temple’s storied blue-front, white-back pants, York came to the realization that he’d never helped the Wildcats win a playoff game on the road. Temple lost its postseason opener at Longview in 2019 and defeated Waxahachie in bi-district duels at Wildcat Stadium in 2020 and 2021, followed by the second-round setbacks at the hands of Rockwall-Heath teams guided by former Temple head coach Mike Spradlin.
To maximize the possibility of earning that elusive playoff victory away from home, York decided to add running back to his desired list of responsibilities for the first time since he starred for Travis Science Academy along with longtime friend and fellow Wildcats four-year varsity starter Mikal Harrison-Pilot.
“When me, my dad and Coach Stewart sat down in January and talked about me playing running back, it wasn’t because I wanted accolades or anything. It’s because I’ve never ridden home with a gold ball (trophy) on a chartered bus,” York explained. “You can count the (Killeen) Shoemaker ball (in 2020), but that was a district championship. I’ve never had a playoff win on the road, riding home with that gold ball trophy. That’s all about winning.
“These (younger) guys coming up, they’ve never experienced this. That Rockwall-Heath loss didn’t hit as hard as it did to me. I’ve had to experience those pains and like, ‘Where did I go wrong?’ That’s not taking anything away from them or their spotlight. It’s because I’m here to win.”
Stewart said he’s been fortunate to be around some very intelligent players since he arrived in Temple as defensive coordinator before the 2014 season, which produced the Wildcats’ first of two trips to the 5A Division I state championship game in a three-season span.
“Taurean has a very similar mindset to Chad President on the offensive side,” Stewart said, referring to that 2014 team’s standout quarterback who’s gone on to a successful coaching career. “The game slows down for guys like that.”
Stewart added that York’s analytical mind and penchant for studying film remind him of Ben Norman, who played free safety for the 2016 Wildcats’ state runner-up squad. Even so, Stewart said he’s not sure that Norman’s game preparation was nearly as maniacal as that of York.
“Probably Ben Norman, and again, that’s approaching Taurean. He studied, studied, studied, studied, but I don’t think Ben was as fanatical about it, if that’s the right word,” said Stewart, who recalled a key defensive adjustment that Norman made against speedy Port Arthur Memorial, sparking Temple’s runaway win in the third round. “They’re very similar when it comes to that: ‘Once I see it, I got it.’”
IN HOT PURSUIT: Temple linebacker Taurean York (5) puts pressure on Waxahachie quarterback Roderick Hartsfield Jr. during the Wildcats' 28-14 victory over the Indians in a Class 6A Division II playoff game last November at Wildcat Stadium. In his upcoming senior season, the 6-foot, 215-pound York will aim to help Temple advance to the third round for the first time as a 6A program. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
And when it comes to game video, York has to see it – quickly. After each Temple game, he wants to start breaking down the film pretty much as soon as possible after taking a shower and grabbing something to eat.
“Let it get to midnight and you haven’t shared it with him. Let that happen. And if you don’t answer your phone, he’ll call somebody else,” Stewart said with a grin. “He’s got a Hudl (account), but we have to share the film with him. We have to actually click a button and say ‘share.’
“You want to know how much a different species he is from the normal kid? There might be three kids over the weekend who say, ‘Hey, can you share that with me?’ Taurean is going home. He ain’t going to parties. His dad said he might grab a bite to eat and sit down for about 3 minutes and then he’s on his phone. If the film hasn’t been shared, he’s asking for it.”
Last Thursday, York showed a photo of a white board full of plays and alignments.
“This morning I drew up every formation I could think of and how we align to it for some of our linebackers after practice,” said York, who’s learned under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Dexter Knox and linebackers coach Chris Pilot as well as Stewart. “I’m doing my part to prepare them, but I can’t put it all on myself to make them great players. Some stuff is genetics and they can’t control that. It’s about their want-to and motivation.
“For next year, this offseason needs to be personal for them for a lot of reasons – just to get bigger and also to prepare themselves to fill my shoes.”
York hinted at possibly pursuing a career in coaching after the conclusion of his playing days, which he hopes will include competing in the NFL.
“You just have to live and learn. I know that as I keep playing and go into my coaching career, I’ll use lessons from every game. ‘Where could we improve on this? How did we adjust when they did that?’” said York, who recited numerous details and scouting reports about any high-profile player that Temple’s defense will face this season. “There’s some stuff you can’t see until it’s on film, and by then you’re already sitting at home. But that’s part of the game.”
Stewart views York as a viable future coach, and why not? The savvy, sure-tackling linebacker already devours video and, unprompted, turns in detailed scouting reports.
“Taurean’s just wired that way. He would be like Sean McVay (head coach of the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams). I don’t know what he’s going to do, but I could see him coaching because he has phonetic memory or whatever it’s called,” Stewart said. “He studies, studies, studies, studies. He looks at people’s feet, at their fingers. When he’s watching film by himself, he’ll come into my office with a scouting report every Monday before school and say, ‘Coach, take a look at this and see if I’m thinking about it right.’
“And he handles it the right way. I’ve never heard him say, ‘Why don’t we do what I want to do?’ He’s just like, ‘This is what I see. Let me know what we’re going to do.’ He creates his own scouting report. It’s stuff like, ‘When the left tackle has all five fingers on the ground, 88 percent of the time it’s a run. When he’s got three fingers on the ground, 94 percent of the time it’s a pass.’ I mean, I’m not joking. He’s not even in the same species.”
Team goals are at the top of York’s list. Along with helping Temple advance to the third round of the playoffs for the first time as a 6A program, he’s on a quest for the Wildcats’ fourth consecutive 12-6A championship and third straight unbeaten league record. Temple owns a 21-1 district mark with York and Harrison-Pilot in the starting lineup, with the only defeat coming in 2019 at nemesis Waco Midway.
“I think that’s crazy. We have some dudes in our district, and Mikal and I have one loss in district play and 20-plus wins,” York said. “So for us to (potentially) have a clean sweep in district, that’s legendary is so many facets.”
York sometimes thinks back to his varsity debut as a 14-year old, at Round Rock Cedar Ridge and star running back Chris “Deuce” Vaughn in 2019.
“It gives me chills and brings me almost to tears. Growing up I was super skinny, then in second to fifth grade I was a real husky dude. Then in seventh and eighth grade I started working extremely hard and worked it off,” he said. “I remember in ninth grade walking out at (Round Rock ISD’s) Kelly Reeves Stadium.
“I walked out there and said, ‘This stadium’s going to be packed in 3 hours.’ I swear, a little tear came to my eye. After the first snap when I tackled Deuce Vaughn, who was all-state and now he’s an all-American (at Kansas State), that gave me all the confidence I needed.”
True to York’s nature of maintaining high standards for himself, he admitted he still thinks about that 52-28 loss at Midway in 2019. The 14-year-old linebacker made an interception to thwart a deep Panthers drive but then on the return was stripped of the ball, with Midway regaining possesion.
“The lowest moment I’d say was when I fumbled after that interception. I was 14 and I still had that mind like at Travis when I could reverse field two times and score a 70-yard touchdown. But you’re playing these guys who haven’t lost in district in five years and they’re pretty good themselves,” York said. “We were down by 21 at that point, but that interception was still the momentum change that we needed.
“For me to give it right back to them, I learned from that. That goes back to my family and this coaching staff – Coach Stewart, Coach Knox and Coach Pilot – that they just threw me in the fire. They treated me like everybody else.”
York said it was extremely meaningful to him to be voted as a team captain entering the 2020 campaign, during which Temple finished 10-2 and scored its first playoff win in 6A.
“That’s probably my biggest accomplishment, being named a team captain as a sophomore. That’s a lot of hard work, and the team recognized my hard work and determination and how focused I was on our common goal of winning a state championship,” York said. “I would say nothing’s changed probably from my sophomore year until now. I’m still being a leader. You could throw all the all-state (honors) and MVPs in one pile and I would pick team captain every day of the week.”
OFF TO THE RACES: Temple linebacker Taurean York (5) scoops up a fumble and returns it 76 yards for a touchdown late in the Wildcats' 44-34 home victory over Harker Heights on Oct. 1, 2021 at Wildcat Stadium. It was one of five fumble recoveries for the District 12-6A Defensive MVP last season. Temple trailed 21-0 in the first half. It was the second straight season in which York and the Wildcats had to overcome a three-TD deficit in the first half to defeat the Knights. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
York made an average of almost 12 tackles per game last season as he racked up 141 stops overall, including 91 unassisted, 17 for losses and 4½ sacks along with four forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and one memorable touchdown.
Late in Temple’s 12-6A home showdown with dangerous Harker Heights, York picked up a fumble and sprinted 76 yards for a TD with 1:11 remaining to seal the Wildcats’ riveting 44-34 home win after they faced a 21-0 first-half deficit.
As a senior, he’d like to blast past his career high for tackles – not only by making more stops per game but helping Temple play more than 12 games.
“Twelve tackles a game, that was my dad’s goal for me as a freshman. That’s high expectations,” York said, adding that he was disappointed to make “only” 11 stops in last year’s hard-hitting playoff win over Waxahachie. “If I continue to play the game at a high level like I know how to play, I can exceed 150 or 160 tackles. And if we keep playing (in the postseason), it can go into the 180s for sure. And then on offense, just whatever it takes to win.”
Although a third consecutive 12-6A Defensive MVP award certainly is on York’s radar, he also wants to make a strong run at capturing the district’s overall MVP honor, which was earned by record-setting Harker Heights running back Re’Shaun Sanford II – who’s now a senior – in 2021. Adding offensive production this season could help York compile a stronger case.
“I honestly feel like I am the best player in the district, because if you take me away from any team my absence will be felt,” he said. “The overall MVP would me a lot to me, but I’m focused on getting a ring. Right now, the all-state (accolades) and the MVPs haven’t really set in. But I know 10, 15, 20 years down the line, I’ll say, ‘Wow, I really accomplished something great.’
"All that’s cool, but I know that as a team we’re too talented to be sitting at home in December. It’s awesome to see that your hard work paid off, but I have bigger goals. I want that to come along with the rings and things like that.”
York entered last season without strong recruiting interest from major conference programs, but his excellent junior year spawned a three-star ranking and scholarship offers from Baylor, Mississippi, Colorado and Duke plus several from programs in non-Power 5 leagues.
Excited about the prospect of playing for defensive-minded third-year head coach Dave Aranda and defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach Ron Roberts, York verbally committed to Baylor on Feb. 5. He plans to sign with the Bears in December and begin classes and workouts with the Bears in January.
One of York’s football heroes is former Austin Lake Travis and Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson, the New York Jets’ first-round draft pick this year. York met Wilson while attending Ohio State's victory against Purdue last season in Columbus.
He said a scholarship offer from the powerhouse Buckeyes might be too good to pass up if it comes, but he remains firm on his pledge to Baylor. York plans to make official visits to Ole Miss and Louisiana State this fall, something Aranda supports.
“I’m going to take visits, because I know how hard I’ve worked and I’m still working. Baylor offered me Jan. 21 and I committed Feb. 5, so I shut it down real quick,” said York, who also models his all-around game after Philadelphia Eagles rookie linebacker Nakobe Dean, who earned a mechanical engineering degree at Georgia while helping the Bulldogs win last season’s national championship.
“I knew what I wanted and I could envision myself playing with them. Coach Aranda told me, ‘You’re still 17 years old. I want you to experience things like that.’ They’re not too worried about me leaving. I’m locked in and I’m recruiting guys (for Baylor). I can see myself going to the next level with them.”
When York was halfway through his sophomore season, Knox discussed what already made the young linebacker – then 15 – the leader of Temple’s defense.
“There’s so many things to talk about with Taurean. It’s pretty special, to be honest. He’s so intelligent and studies the game so much. You don’t see a high school kid care as much as he does,” Knox said in November 2020. “He’s got two parents (Rebecca and former Temple football player Robert) at home who love him and you can see how he's been raised.
“He’s never satisfied. When we get done with a game, he expects to have the film (available to watch) within an hour. He knows the ins and outs of this defense. When we need to make checks at halftime or during the game, he can handle it. That makes it fun for a defensive coordinator because it's like having another coach on the field. He’s always on.”
Now, as York enters his senior season, he essentially has remained the same person and skilled, reliable player. York said he’s watched “The Last Dance” – the documentary series on Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 NBA champion Chicago Bulls – nine times. It continues to motivate him as he embarks on his final ride with Temple’s Wildcats.
“My dad was at a lot of practices my freshman year, but he trusted Coach Pilot and Coach Knox and they’ve done a great job with me. I can’t give them enough credit for just believing in me as a 14-year-old,” York said. “I feel like I owe it to them to give them everything I have in this last dance, this last go-round. Those coaches have developed me and let me go and lead the way I want to lead.”