Versatile Hendrick Taylor steps forward for Alcorn State _lowres

Southern Mississippi's Markese Triplett (23) attempts to get past Alcorn State's Hendrick Taylor (30) during an NCAA college football game in Hattiesburg, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/The Hattiesburg American, Kelly Price) The Associated Press

Playing in a star-studded secondary such as Alcorn State’s can make it hard to stand out above the crowd with distinguished play.

Despite his role as a non-starter, senior Hendrick Taylor has managed to earn the acclaim of his peers and coaching staff with exemplary play and leadership, playing both safety and nickelback.

“He’s a very smart young man and can play just about anything on the field,” Alcorn State coach Jay Hopson said. “You ask any secondary coach or defensive coordinator, and that’s huge. There’s no spot we couldn’t put him at and let him play. He gives us a lot of versatility and had made a number of plays.”

Taylor, a graduate of East Feliciana, has maximized his opportunities this season, ranking sixth on Alcorn State’s defense with 13 tackles and coming away with his first interception of the year in last week’s 52-9 Southwestern Athletic Conference victory over Mississippi Valley State.

Taylor is considered one of the key elements in a secondary that leads Alcorn State (3-1, 1-0) into Saturday’s home game against Southern (2-2, 1-0) at 4 p.m.

“Regardless of the fact of how much I play, I’ve got to stay humble and be grateful for the opportunity I’m having,” Taylor said.

“Whenever my number’s called, I go in and make a play.”

Taylor said playing against Southern has always been a special occasion because of his affinity for the Jaguars growing up 20 miles away in Clinton. The game has also served as an outlet for family members to attend in droves whether the game’s been in Lorman or Baton Rouge.

Consecutive wins in the series, including a 44-38 verdict in Baton Rouge last season, have given Taylor a 2-1 record in his career against the Jaguars.

“It’s basically a feeling of excitement because I grew up as a Southern fan,” he said. “Being from right down the street from Baton Rouge, it’s a great feeling getting to play in front of my family. I get to play for and against my family and I’ll have more fans at the game, so it’s like almost playing in my own backyard.”

Taylor played three seasons for Clinton High before East Feliciana was created his senior year as the result of consolidation between Clinton and Jackson high schools.

On a team that was quarterbacked by current LSU middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith, Taylor was a two-way starter as a senior for the Tigers at running back and linebacker — part of a team that went undefeated and reached the Class 2A state semifinals.

Former coach Melvin Spears recruited Taylor to Alcorn State, where the first 1½ years of his career proved to be quite trying. Not only was Taylor transitioning from linebacker to safety, but playing time for the 5-foot-9, 185-pounder was limited to special teams.

“It was kind of a challenge my freshman year,” Taylor said, “but the next year I started getting more comfortable and the pieces starting falling together.”

Taylor made 24 tackles and broke up three passes in 2012 before moving into a bigger role last season, seeing action in 11 of his team’s 12 games.

With a career-high 38 tackles, three stops for loss and two interceptions, Taylor began to flourish in his role at safety and in Alcorn’s nickel package.

The first big college highlight for Taylor came during Alcorn’s 48-0 win over Grambling last season in the Circle City Classic at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts. He registered four tackles, 2½ for loss, an interception and quarterback hurry, earning MVP honors for the Braves.

“That was a great experience,” Taylor said. “It came in an NFL stadium where the Colts play. The achievement of being named MVP was another accolade to add to all of my accomplishments. It was a humbling experience.”

This season Alcorn returned a pair of All-SWAC preseason first-team defensive backs in C.J. Morgan and New Orleans native Devon Francois, while Anthony Williams Jr. and Quinton Cantue were second-team selections.

Taylor has carved a niche at safety that can provide run support, equaling a career-high seven tackles in a 26-20 loss to Southern Miss, or help facilitate communication in the secondary when the Braves opt for their nickel package.

“He’s a young man that’s not only provided great football play but great leadership,” Hopson said of Taylor, who will graduate with a degree in electrical/mechanical engineering. “He’s just an all-around great guy, and we’re happy to have to him.”