By Derek Gonzales
Tyrian Taylor is no stranger to adversity. How could he be? He’s been fighting for his dream for too long and overcome too much not to go all out now.
“You’re too small, you don’t have enough accolades.”
This is just the beginning of what Taylor has heard his entire life. Yet when Taylor, an upcoming senior wide receiver for the New Mexico State football team, steps onto the football field, all that talk might as well be white noise.
Taylor grew up in a crime-filled part of Orlando, Florida, where trouble was not hard to find. His mother, Lisa Taylor, and father, Freddrick Williams, made sure that their son did not fall into the dangers that were constantly around him.
“It was kind of crazy,” Taylor says. “I did not stay in the best upscale neighborhood. There was a lot of crime in the area, so my dad got me into football. I always played football with older kids, so when it was time to play outside, the older guys would come knock on my door to see if I could come play.”
Taylor played organized football earlier than most kids in the Orlando-area, and he quickly developed a feel for the game, which made him one of the top players in the area. He eventually made it to Jones High School in Orlando, and as a sophomore garnered interest from Division I football programs.
“In 10th grade, I actually received letters from Clemson, Middle Tennessee State, and Massachusetts, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out,” says Taylor.
Taylor put up solid numbers as a senior, catching 11 touchdowns en route to a 1,000-yard season, but being at 5’9’’, 155 pounds coming out of high school, coaches saw his smaller frame and didn’t believe he could handle the rigors of Division I football.
That forced Taylor to settle on Division-II Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri, right after high school.
“I played there (Lindenwood) as a true freshman,” he says. “After that season, I wanted to transfer and go to a Division I school. A friend of mine told me about Ellsworth because he was planning on going there himself, and since it is a junior college, it allowed me to do what I wanted and get re-recruited.”
Ellsworth Community College is located in Iowa Falls, Iowa, which is 1,391 miles away from the Orlando International Airport. The distance between the two cities didn’t affect Taylor, as it was almost expected from athletes in central Florida to earn scholarships from football-playing institutions. In high school Taylor was also a track and field star and he ran the 4×100-meter relay with three other teammates, who went on to play Division-I football (Kermit Whitfield – Florida State, C.J. Jennings – Wyoming, Wilkinson Myrtil – Florida International).
As a sophomore at Ellsworth, Taylor shined for the Panthers. In his first game he caught 11 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns. The next week he had eight more catches for 114 yards and another touchdown. In 11 games he totaled 66 receptions for 1,029 yards and 10 touchdowns. He earned a spot on the All-American second team and was a first-team all-conference performer.
After that season, his time at Ellsworth was over. Luckily, it wouldn’t be the last time Taylor would put on football pads. The New Mexico State coaching staff was on the recruiting trail for a wide receiver, and as Head Coach Doug Martin and his staff have done throughout their tenure in Las Cruces, he found another diamond in the rough.
Taylor finally accomplished his goal of play in a Division I program, but he was not content. He didn’t want to just be on the team, he wanted to leave his mark on a program that has not been to a bowl game since 1960.
After playing his first FBS game in his home state against the University of Florida in front of 25 family members and friends, the Aggies came home to face Georgia State in the Sun Belt Conference opener. Though the Aggies fell 34-32, Taylor busted onto the scene with an outstanding game. He had 10 receptions for 206 yards and a couple of touchdown catches in front of a nearly sold-out crowd in Aggie Memorial Stadium.
“I expected big things coming into FBS football, and I always knew I had the ability to prove myself, but I finally was able to show it and it was crazy,” Taylor says.
Even with that performance against Georgia State and an acrobatic touchdown catch against rival UTEP, in a game where NMSU blew a 14-point lead with four minutes left and eventually lost in overtime, 50-47, it was hard on Taylor as the Aggies started off the season 0-7.
After the team hit rock bottom with a 52-7 loss against then 1-5 Troy at homecoming, they pulled off a miraculous comeback against the Idaho Vandals on Halloween night, sparking a three-game winning streak, something that Taylor still thinks about as the team prepares for 2016.
“It showed the potential we have,” he says. “We have a good team, we just hadn’t come together as a unit to finish. Once we started learning how to win, we started being that good team. This year will be a very good year for us.”
Taylor finished the season with a modest 39 receptions for 691 yards and four touchdowns. The Aggies finished the season 3-9, and if they want to improve on that record this upcoming season, many believe the impetus is on Taylor to be more productive, especially after the transfer of teammate Teldrick Morgan. Taylor says it’s a challenge he is ready for.
“I will be able to be more productive,” he says. “We spread the ball around, but I’m expecting to do bigger things and put up better numbers than I did last year.”
As a senior, he ultimately wants to accomplish what he came to New Mexico State for: go to a bowl game and be part of the team that ended the nation’s longest bowl drought.
“I really want to win a bowl game, and I want everybody to come together as a team and finish games,” he says.
Taylor says he’d like 60 individual receptions and 10 touchdowns in his last year playing college football.
The young man has proved he can counter any punch that life throws at him. And despite being a senior, his football career is likely just starting.