Daniel Taylor isn’t big in stature. He stands just 5-foot-8.
But the Lutcher High senior-to-be already casts a long shadow over one of the legendary high school football programs in south Louisiana.
“We made the decision to make Daniel a starter when he was an eighth-grader,” LHS offensive coordinator Dwain Jenkins said. “We didn’t want to do it, but we needed to get more balance offensively.”
Taylor ran for 119 yards on 11 carries against St. Charles Catholic the next week in 2007 and has kept opponents off balance ever since.
He received his first scholarship offer from then Hawaii coach June Jones that same year. Taylor is also Lutcher’s all-time rushing leader, surpassing the totals of former LSU running back Mike Montz.
Taylor said he has always known what to do on a football field. He also has some ideas about what to expect as the 2011 season draws closer.
“I started playing football when I was seven,” Taylor said. “I’ve always had good vision to see the holes and how they develop, and I’ve always been able to take the right angles when I get in the open field. There are still things I need to get better at. I want to improve as a receiver. I want to do what I can to help us win.”
Few players get to be four-year starters, and Taylor finds himself on the verge of becoming a rare fifth-year starter for the Bulldogs, who join Baton Rouge’s new District 6-4A.
Taylor hasn’t grown much taller than he was as a 13-year-old eighth-grader, but he has added 30 pounds of muscle and now weighs 170.
Physical muscle is not the only thing Taylor has added.
“When an athlete is so young, you worry about them having so much success so soon,” Lutcher head coach Tim Detillier said. “But Daniel’s handled it, which is a credit to him and his mom. The most important change I see in Daniel is the mental maturity. He takes care of what needs to be done in the classroom. And he knows what all his responsibilities on the field are, too.”
As impressive as Taylor’s mental growth is, it’s his physical attributes that impress recruiters. Taylor has run a 4.32 40-yard dash. The list of schools who have already offered scholarships includes June Jones’ current school, SMU, along with Tennessee, Memphis, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Southeastern Louisiana, North Texas and Northwestern State.
Though recruiters view Taylor as more of a slot receiver, Jenkins and Detillier talk about his speed and versatility.
“He’s really evolved,” Jenkins said. “Daniel didn’t become an every-down back until his freshman year because that was when he could handle pass protection as a blocker.
“His sophomore year was his breakout year. He had 1,300 yards rushing that year. What most people don’t understand is he also had over 500 yards receiving that year. He could line up at wide receiver if we wanted that. Another thing people don’t realize is he’s not one of those guys who carries the ball 200 times a year. He knows we’ll throw it and spread the ball around. Daniel takes advantage of the chances he has.”
Taylor has rushed for 4,152 career yards on 454 carries with 56 touchdowns. He also has 95 receptions for 1,012 yards and eight TDs.
Surpassing Montz to become the Bulldogs’ all-time leading rusher is a notable feat. Just as notable is that Taylor has excelled while in the shadow of other impressive players.
Taylor shared time in the backfield with quarterback Gavin Webster, who was Louisiana’s Mr. Football in 2009. Another ex-teammate, receiver Jarvis Landry, is one of LSU’s prize freshman recruits.
Taylor won’t be the Bulldogs’ only notable recruit. Defensive back Jordan Batiste has already committed to Ole Miss.
“I don’t know if you can teach some of things Daniel does,” Detillier said. “He always seems to make the right cut when he hits the hole.
“You’d think sooner or later somebody will catch him. I haven’t seen anybody catch him yet. Once he breaks the line of scrimmage somebody on the sidelines will say, ?There he goes’ or ?That’s it ? it’s over.
“We see it even at practice. He’ll leave them (defense) in their stance. He’s not just fast, he’s shifty. ? kind of like a water bug.”
Taylor has no problem putting accomplishments and praise in perspective. He has been working with Jenkins to improve his route running.
“One of the things we want Daniel to show is that he can do more than catch the ball out of the backfield,” Jenkins said. “He’s got great hands. Running better routes will make him an even better target for the quarterback and it will give recruiters something else to see.”
Taylor has things other than recruiters on his mind. As a youngster, he grew up going to Lutcher games with dreams of helping the Bulldogs to glory.
Lutcher has not won a state title since beating Notre Dame-Crowley in 2008 to win the Class 3A crown. Taylor and his teammates want to change that.
“Lutcher is the best place in the world to play,” Taylor said. “It was my dream. The people here do expect a lot from us.
“It won’t be easy, but we want to give them what they want - another (state) title.”