FAST TIMES: Shown by game-opening TD strike, small Temple receiver Taylor succeeds with elite speed
GONE IN 9 SECONDS: Temple senior slot receiver Tr'Darius Taylor caught a 75-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield only 9 seconds into the Wildcats' game at rival Belton last Friday, setting the tone for a 50-15 Temple victory. It was the first scoring reception this season for the 5-foot-8, 135-pound Taylor, who also returned a punt 52 yards for a touchdown in a home win over Hutto. Last spring Taylor ran the anchor leg for Temple's 4x100-meter relay team that placed sixth at the Class 6A state meet in Austin. The District 12-6A-leading Wildcats (5-2, 4-0) play their homecoming game against Killeen Shoemaker (3-3, 2-2) at 7:30 Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Temple’s football team has players who catch more passes for more yards and touchdowns than senior slot receiver Tr’Darius Taylor does. And at 5-foot-8 and 135 pounds, he’s certainly the smallest of the Wildcats’ regular contributors.
However, there is one thing that makes Taylor stand out on the field – and on the track that surrounds it.
Taylor’s blazing top-end speed helped him score four touchdowns during his junior season, then he ran the anchor leg for Temple’s 4x100-meter relay team that finished in 40.96 seconds to place sixth at the University Interscholastic League Class 6A state meet in Austin.
Earlier this season Taylor showcased his speed in the non-district finale against Hutto at Wildcat Stadium, scooping up the ball on a punt return, weaving through would-be tacklers and sprinting 52 yards for a touchdown while displaying the skills that made him District 12-6A’s first-team kick returner in 2020.
But perhaps the best illustration of his elite running prowess came in Temple’s most recent game, at rival Belton last Friday night at Tiger Field.
On the evening’s first offensive snap, Taylor – lined up in the right slot on the Wildcats’ 25-yard line – ran past his defender near midfield and caught sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield’s well-thrown pass in stride just inside the Belton 40 before pulling away for a 75-yard touchdown reception.
Taylor’s scoring bomb was the first of Temple’s seven TDs in its 50-15 victory, and it came with only 9 seconds gone.
Now that’s fast.
That highlight-reel strike set the tone for a dominant all-around game by the district-leading Wildcats as they defeated Belton for the ninth straight time, and it gave Taylor and his teammates a very early reason to celebrate after the speedster’s first touchdown reception of his senior season.
“I came to the sideline and everyone was just surrounding me, tapping my helmet and jumping up. It was fun,” Taylor said Tuesday as Temple (5-2 overall, 4-0 in 12-6A) prepared for its homecoming game against Killeen Shoemaker (3-3, 2-2) at 7:30 Friday night at Wildcat Stadium.
The caliber of speed Taylor showcased on his long-range TD impressed Temple head coach Scott Stewart and offensive coordinator Josh Sadler, but it definitely didn’t surprise them.
“Tre’s a really athletic kid, obviously fast and has got really good ball skills. He’s just not very big,” Stewart said about Taylor, who’s commonly known as Tre to teammates and coaches. “He runs that fourth leg, man.”
Said Sadler: “The first thing obviously is the speed he has, coming off running the anchor leg for our sprint relay at the state meet. What you see is his ability to get away from the defense. He’s not a very big kid, but his speed is right up there with the best we’ve had (in the last six seasons) – Xavier Johnson, D’Yonte Heckstall and Anthony Jackson.”
With his good-natured personality, Taylor doesn’t go out of his way to brag about his speed. When asked if he’s the fastest player on Temple’s team, he quickly complimented the speed of senior running back Samari Howard and junior wide receiver Mikal Harrison-Pilot, two of his teammates on the Wildcats’ state relay squad. The quartet’s other member was former Temple cornerback Carlton Mack, a 2021 graduate.
That said, Taylor – who’s run the 100 meters in 10.70 seconds and the 40-yard dash in 4.38 – also felt compelled to set the record straight for accuracy’s sake.
“I’m the fastest guy, but the two people I’d say can most likely give me a run are Mikal and Samari,” Taylor said, smiling. “They would give me a run, but I would most likely win it.”
STATEMENT-MAKING PLAY: Temple senior receiver Tr'Darius Taylor runs past a Belton defender to catch Reese Rumfield's pass en route to a 75-yard touchdown on the first offensive play of the Wildcats' 50-15 win over the Tigers in last Friday's Bell rivalry duel at Tiger Field. In his two-season varsity career, Taylor has 31 catches for 557 yards and five TDs. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
In his first varsity season last year, Taylor made 18 receptions for 345 yards and four touchdowns, including one TD in each of Temple’s two games in the 6A Division II playoffs as the 12-6A champion Wildcats finished 10-2.
With reigning 12-6A co-MVP Howard averaging 20 carries per game and a large amount of Rumfield’s passes going to senior Devan Williams (20 catches, 477 yards, seven touchdowns) and Harrison-Pilot (19, 385, three), Taylor’s production was relatively limited during Temple’s first six games this season. He entered the Belton game with 10 receptions for 123 yards and zero touchdowns.
But if Taylor felt any frustration, he didn’t show it. He blocked for his running backs and fellow receivers, caught passes when they did come his way and served as a dangerous threat on special teams. That was evidenced by his electric punt return TD against Hutto in a 60-53 home victory that snapped the Wildcats’ two-game losing skid and sparked a five-game winning streak.
“I want to pick up some more production, but I like seeing my brothers happy. It’s a lot of fun,” said Taylor, whose punt return for a touchdown at Killeen Ellison was negated by a Temple penalty. “I want the win. When mine comes, it comes. I’m being patient for when my time comes.”
Taylor’s time came right away against Belton. He said Temple had practiced that deep pass “about four times each day” beginning last Tuesday. Did it work that well in practice?
“Yes, every time,” he said.
Taylor’s defender played off the line of scrimmage, giving the Temple senior time and space to get a clean break, and the combination of Taylor’s speed and Rumfield’s on-target throw proved lethal.
“I ran across the middle from the right slot, I saw the ball in the air and it was going great,” Taylor said. “I tracked it and it was a great ball by Reese. He didn’t put a lot of air under it. The ball was great.”
On a blustery night in Belton, Sadler wasn’t sure during pregame warmups whether that play would work as well as it had during Temple’s practices.
“We came out and the wind was swirling. We were going into a good wind (in the first quarter), but our staff was very good and adamant about, ‘Let’s stick with it,’” Sadler said. “Through our film study we liked our matchups and we thought we could go in a couple different directions. We sent Samari in motion and Reese saw Tr’Darius (for the long touchdown).”
After playing for Temple’s freshman team and then splitting his sophomore season between playing on junior varsity and being a varsity backup, Taylor got his first major opportunity last year as a 5-7, 129-pound junior. His debut came at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium in the season opener against Longview, which in 2019 dominated the Wildcats 41-10 in a 6A D-II bi-district playoff game.
After experiencing an eye-opening start, Taylor scored Temple’s first touchdown of the season, a 38-yard reception, on the first of four TD passes by senior quarterback and first-year starter Humberto Arizmendi as the Wildcats avenged their lopsided postseason defeat with a resounding 40-13 win.
“Coach (Sadler) said, ‘I just want you to go in and prove to us why you’re here.’ So when I went out there, my first play was a quick out for like 17 yards. I took a pretty big hit and was like, ‘Dang, this is varsity football,’” recalled Taylor, who made three grabs for 62 yards against Longview. “The next drive, I came back and Coach was like, ‘Let’s go score.’ (Arizmendi) threw me the ball and I broke three or four tackles and scored. I was like, ‘I’m getting used to it.’”
A 37-yard touchdown pass from Arizmendi highlighted Taylor’s three catches for a team-leading 58 yards in Temple’s 38-0 home win over bi-district playoff opponent Waxahachie. One week later, Taylor caught a 19-yard scoring pass from Arizmendi and added a 55-yard reception in the Wildcats’ 56-28 area-round loss to Rockwall-Heath at Baylor’s McLane Stadium in Waco.
Stewart considers Taylor a good route runner but knows that it’s the slender senior’s high-level speed that gives defenders the most problems.
“I’ve always said, ‘If you had a choice, would you rather get a bowling ball thrown at you or shot at by a 9-milimeter?’” Stewart said. “You’ve got a chance to dodge a bowling ball. If it hits you it’s going to hurt, but at least you’ve got a chance. But a 9-milimeter? Not even Bruce Lee can whup a bullet’s (butt).”
Regarding Taylor’s aforementioned touchdown reception against Waxahachie, the blocking work done by then-senior receivers Luke Allen and AJ McDuffy that helped to spring him left a big impression on Taylor about the importance of his blocking.
“It was a screen play. Luke and AJ were on the field with me, and in my eyes I was close with them and I knew they were going to give me good blocks,” Taylor said. “Once I caught it, I looked and had a big hole with great blocks by Luke and AJ. It was me 1-on-1 with the safety and I did what I had to do.”
Inspired by the blocking skills of his former teammates and current comrades such as Harrison-Pilot, Howard and Williams, Taylor has improved his blocking to the point where he rates himself a 7 on scale of 1 to 10. That’s commendable considering that the defenders Taylor’s tasked with blocking often outweigh the 135-pounder by at least 40 to 50 pounds.
“In my opinion, it’s not,” Taylor said of his size possibly being a problem. “It’s physical. You have to give effort, and to play varsity football you have to be tough. I’ve actually gotten so used to it now that, in my opinion, my blocking has gotten way better. I just put myself in a position where I know I can do it. I get inside his pads and I hold on tight and I run my feet. Like in basketball when they shuffle and slide, that’s what I do just to stay in front.”
Sadler said Temple’s slot receivers such as Taylor and senior Kobe Smith have overcome their small statures to become willing, effective blockers.
“Some people see (their size) as a hindrance, because it’s 6A football and our inside receivers have to block those outside linebackers. But our guys are not scared of anyone,” Sadler said. “They’ll fight them and give them everything they’ve got, and Tre does as good a job as anyone. (Receivers) Coach (Titus) Dixon does a great job with those guys (on blocking).”
Said Stewart about Taylor: “He’s a tough kid. He’s small, but he’s wiry (strong).”
SPEED TO BURN: Urged on by Temple head coach Scott Stewart (right, holding headset), senior Tr'Darius Taylor sprints past a Hutto player to score a 52-yard touchdown on a punt return during the Wildcats' 60-53 victory over the Hippos on Sept. 10 at Wildcat Stadium. Taylor was voted the first-team kick returner on the All-District 12-6A Team in 2020. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Taylor grew up in Cameron and developed his running speed in part by racing on the street with his older cousins, including former Cameron Yoe star and current Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Dede Westbrook. He remembers watching Aaron Sims, Sicory Smith and the late Traion Smith star for the Yoemen, who won three straight state championships from 2012-14.
When Taylor was approximately 9 years old, his mother, Alisha Freeman, moved to Temple with him, his younger sister, Tr’Daisha, and his younger brother, Tr’Darion.
Taylor recalled that driving past Wildcat Stadium one evening when he was in elementary school sparked his interest in becoming a Temple football player.
“I remember one time we were driving by (Wildcat Stadium) and I think it was a middle school game. I saw them playing and I was like, ‘Whoa,’ because they were playing in Temple’s stadium under the lights,” he said. “That night I asked my mom, ‘Is that the only game they play this week?’ And she said, ‘No, the varsity plays tomorrow. The big team is tomorrow.’ So I said, ‘Can we drive by again?’ And she said, ‘I’ll actually take you and we can watch the game,’ and she took me.”
Although Taylor always has been fleet-footed by most standards, he said he wasn’t the fastest player at Travis Science Academy – at least not right away, thanks to current Temple football seniors such as running back Tavaris Sullivan and cornerback LeMichael Thompson.
“My seventh-grade year I was fast but I wasn’t as fast as some people. Tavaris and LeMichael were faster than me. During the year I had run first leg (on relays) for Travis,” Taylor said. “It was during the summer (before eighth grade) and I was like, ‘Yo, I want to get faster.’
“Tavaris and I tried out for a summer (track) team, but we had been conditioning still after middle school track got done. We went into the summer and out of nowhere I guess the conditioning paid off, because I started leaving Tavaris on the track. After that he was like, ‘You got so fast.’”
Most of Taylor’s sophomore track and field season in 2020 was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he made his breakthrough last spring for head coach Justin Pierce.
“When my junior year came, I had a blast being the anchor of the 4x100 and 4x200 relays,” said Taylor, who also competes in the 100, long jump and triple jump. “At district we finally got our 4x100 (team) that we wanted throughout the year, and it went great.”
In the district meet he placed second in the 100 in a personal-record 10.70 seconds to advance to the area meet, and Taylor, Howard, Harrison-Pilot and Mack continued to improve their 4x100 time each meet as they advanced to state, taking sixth place in a season-best 40.96.
“It was big. It was something to enjoy,” Taylor said about the experience of competing on the state stage at Myers Stadium on the University of Texas campus. “When we actually first walked into the stadium, I felt some (nerves). But getting ready for the race and warming up, it just all went away. We all ran great.”
With Howard, Harrison-Pilot and himself returning to the track next spring, Taylor predicted that the tall, fluid Williams might fill out their sprint relay foursome.
Asked whether he considers himself a track guy first or a football player who also runs track, Taylor said, “I would say 60 percent football, 40 percent track. I love track.”
Along those lines, or lanes, Taylor said his goal is to play college football and also compete in track if his chosen school offers that option. Programs such as Hardin-Simmons, McMurry and Southwestern Assemblies of God are showing recruiting interest toward Taylor.
“Wherever I go to school to play football,” he said, “I’m going to try to run track there, too.”
Government, environment systems and law are among the favorite classes for Taylor, who’s worked hard to improve his academic profile throughout high school.
“I love school. It’s actually fun,” he said. “When your whole class is chill and you have a good teacher, it’s fun. I love government (taught by Temple head golf coach Allen Roark).”
Sadler said Taylor, who’ll turn 18 in March, has made large strides with taking care of his schoolwork and generally following the guidelines and expectations of being a Temple athlete.
“When Tre first came in he was silly and squirrely, like every seventh- to ninth-grader is. He was always a great athlete. It's not that he would get into trouble, but he had some issues here and there,” Sadler said. “The last three years we’ve seen his grades improve to where now we don’t have to check his grades as much.
“He’s starting to understand the man thing, which is big for him as hopefully he heads to college and has an opportunity for other endeavors. He’s starting to figure it out and take responsibility for his actions.”
For example, with Temple leading Belton 28-9 late in the first quarter, Taylor caught a short Rumfield pass on the left side and quickly took off in search of more yardage, but the oncoming defender dislodged the ball and the Tigers recovered it.
“When I caught the ball, I turned outside and all I saw was a guy in my face. I tried to make a move, but it was already too late and he punched it right out,” Taylor explained. “When I have a bad moment like a fumble, I usually talk to Coach Sadler and I’m like, ‘Dang, Coach, that’s my bad.’ He tells me to keep my head up and all the players come up to (support) me. I don’t really throw a fit or anything.”
Stewart said that in the past, Taylor tended to struggle when something didn’t go his way. He's seen signs that his speedy senior is leaving that type of behavior in the rear-view mirror, just like a step-too-slow defender.
“Tre's getting better and he’s gotten better,” Stewart said. “He actually did a pretty good job (of overcoming the fumble vs. Belton), and I was very proud of him for that.”
Taylor spends much of his free time playing basketball with friends or throwing the football around with his younger brother, who’s an up-and-coming player on Temple’s successful freshman Blue team and also competes in basketball and track.
“I think he can be better than me. With his work ethic, he can be way better,” Taylor said about Tr’Darion, adding that his brother is, like him, small and fast.
Just as Tr’Darius Taylor looked up to and learned from older Temple receivers such as Quentin Johnston, Allen and McDuffy, he now aims to be a role model for his brother and players such as Christian Tutson, a talented freshman receiver.
“I’m kind of close with (Tutson) because he looks at me as a big brother,” Taylor said. “He’s a great receiver. I tell him, ‘Just stay humble.’”
As Temple seeks its third straight district championship and ninth consecutive playoff berth, Sadler said it’s those relationships that help the Wildcats keep their success rolling.
“Tre has a lot of dealings with our freshmen because of his brother. He’s trying to pass the torch, and it’s neat that our kids do that,” Sadler said. “They’re invested in it and want to make sure the legacy stays where it’s supposed to stay.”
The fastest Wildcat offered a parting shot when asked if he still can improve his speed.
“Oh, I think so,” Taylor said. “I can get way faster than what I am now."
Now that's scary.