Subscribe for 17¢ / day
UW D5 rh 97

Aaron Taylor (67) was overlooked by several colleges before he landed at Nebraska. He made his name known, winning the 1997 Outland Trophy and other awards.

Lincoln Journal Star file photo

Aaron Taylor doesn't mind admitting it, especially now.

"I grew up wanting to be a Texas A&M Aggie," says the former Nebraska offensive line great from Wichita Falls, Texas.

Taylor wanted to stay close to home to play college football, but received no scholarship offers from Texas schools. Not one. Former Texas Tech head coach Spike Dykes came close to offering, but no dice. Taylor's high school coach, Wayne LeBleu, wondered if Taylor might be interested in playing for TCU. Taylor distinctly recalls LeBleu talking to the Horned Frogs' coaching staff on his behalf.

This was during the early 1990s, long before Gary Patterson put a charge into the Horned Frogs' program.

But even TCU was uninterested.

"They told coach LeBleu, 'We've seen tape on Aaron, and he's not good enough to play Division I football,'" Taylor recalled Monday, the day he was announced as one of 13 members of the 2018 College Football Hall of Fame class.

He was selected from a national ballot that had 75 All-Americans, and becomes the 18th Nebraska player to earn induction.

Let's just say those TCU coaches would vouch for the notion that recruiting is an inexact science.

"You don't have to stop at the TCU coaches — you can go right through every school in Texas that had it all wrong on Aaron," said LeBleu, retired and living in Fort Worth.

The issue with Taylor was he stood only 6-foot-1. But that was no issue for the late Milt Tenopir, Nebraska's former offensive line coach.

"Coach Tenopir was the only guy who saw Aaron's height as an advantage," LeBleu said.

Taylor stayed low and had outstanding leverage, power and flexibility.

LeBleu recalls when Taylor was a freshman at Rider High in Wichita Falls.

"He had never played a down of football in his life," the coach said. "His father's a retired Air Force person, and Aaron spent a lot of time overseas playing soccer. So he was very quick and agile for a big guy.

"One of the first things that impressed me about him was we were doing exercises, and here he was weighing 240 pounds and he could spread his legs out and lay his entire body down flat in front him. I thought, 'Oh, wow, this guy's going to have great hips. He's going to be able to come out of his stance and really pop someone.'"

Trouble was, Taylor didn't know much about the sport.

"I kept telling him, 'One of these days, you're going to be a great player, just hang in there,'" LeBleu said.

The coach was right. Taylor had some pop. Hall-of-Fame pop, turns out.

After playing a reserve role at left guard for Nebraska in 1994, Taylor started at left guard in 1995, center in 1996 and left guard in 1997. He recorded 337 career "pancake" blocks as the Huskers finished 49-2 overall and 30-0 in conference play in his four seasons.

The only Nebraska player to earn All-American honors at different positions, Taylor helped the Huskers to three undefeated national championship seasons (1994, 1995 and 1997).

In 1995, Nebraska's line was relatively young. The Huskers had just graduated four members of the "original Pipeline" — Brenden Stai, Zach Wiegert, Joel Wilks and Rob Zatechka. The only returning starter was center Aaron Graham. But the machine kept rolling, putting the hammer to Florida 62-24 in the Fiesta Bowl.

Nebraska led the nation in both scoring (52.4 points per game) and rushing (399.8 yards)

After a "glitch" season in 1996 — 11-2 was considered a "glitch" back then — Nebraska was 13-0 in 1997.

During a remarkable period for the program, Taylor's career was remarkable in many ways, including this: He was never whistled for a penalty until the Orange Bowl victory against Tennessee in his final season.

"If you think about it, we had very, very few penalties," he said.

In 1995, Nebraska was called for illegal procedure only three times all season, and holding just once.

"Compare that to the Bill Callahan and Bo Pelini eras, and even these past three years, it's like what's going on with all these silly penalties?" Taylor said.

He was OK with playing center, but preferred playing guard. That's because guards were a more integral piece in Tom Osborne's offense. Taylor would pull on option plays and hammer defensive ends. He often led the way for short-yardage isolation plays and traps.

"You remember those trap plays where the fullbacks, (Brian) Schuster or (Joel) Makovicka, would bust one up the middle — all those required trap blocks from the guard position," Taylor said.

My favorite plays were the counter sweeps.

"You'd have the guard and tackle running out ahead and leading the play to the sideline," Taylor said.

As Taylor talked about those staple plays, I could almost hear Tenopir and the late Dan Young growling out practice orders to the linemen.

Both would be smiling ear to ear upon hearing Taylor's big news.

"It makes me choke up a little thinking about it," Taylor said.

He was startled three weeks ago upon learning that he made it into the Hall. He received a box in the mail from the National Football Foundation, and inside was a letter and a football with his name engraved.

He was told to keep quiet about it.

"I was telling my wife it's kind of surreal to me just in the context of I always thought, 'Man, am I good enough to do this?'" Taylor said.

He was driven in large part by fear of failure. But his idea of failure was failing to live up to the standards set by Hall-of-Famers before him.

"I just know that when I came to Nebraska, I knew about Will Shields being from Lawton, Oklahoma, and I knew about Dave Rimington," Taylor said. "I wanted to be those guys. You just try to do everything you can to get there."

He made it. Made it a long time ago, actually.

TCU's loss just became Nebraska's latest Hall-of-Famer.

0
0
0
0
0

Load comments