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It is the final curtain call for Auburn's outstanding receiver

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It is the final curtain call for Auburn's outstanding receiver

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Lyn Scarbrough


If things had gone the way he had it planned, fans might have been pulling for Courtney Taylor, Auburn basketball player.

Or maybe Courtney Taylor, Alabama basketball player.

Or maybe Courtney Walker, basketball player for somebody.

"I thought I was a basketball player," explained the Auburn senior wide receiver. "That's my favorite sport ... basketball. So, when Auburn offered me a chance to play football, I said, 'Are you serious? Me play college football?'"

And, then there was the matter of where he would play. His hometown, Carrollton, is little more than 30 miles west of Tuscaloosa.

"I didn't really grow up an Alabama fan," he recalled. "But, I did root for them some since they were close to home and a lot of family and friends pulled for them.

"But then Auburn gave me my first chance. The first time that we visited Auburn, we all fell in love with it ... my dad, my mom, all of us. You could tell that the coaches genuinely wanted me at Auburn. I felt privileged to just have a chance to attend this school and play football here." :thumbsup:

So, that takes care of the sport ... and the school.

But, Courtney Walker?

"My last name should really be Walker," he said.

"My parents are Joe and Mary Walker. But, on my birth certificate my last name is listed as Taylor, my mother's maiden name. That was supposed to be changed, but somehow, it never happened. So, when I was in school, some of the people called me Walker. But, since more people called me Taylor, we decided to just keep it that way."

Things might not have happened just as Taylor planned, but Auburn people, and Taylor himself, must be pleased with the results.

Football fans around the country now certainly know his name, what he plays and where he plays. Courtney Taylor enters his final season as one of the SEC's top wide receivers, one of the most explosive weapons in an Auburn arsenal that is aiming for an SEC championship and high national ranking.

"I can't tell you how pleased I am with my decision to be a wide receiver at Auburn," he said.

"I had never even thought about being a receiver. I figured that if I played college football it might be at defensive back. The only time that I had ever played receiver was some games of throw-back in the yard. You know, I was a high school quarterback."

Obviously, the position change was the right one.

Taylor's first catch of the 2006 season will be the 100th of his Auburn career, making him only the sixth Tiger player in history to reach that mark. Even though his career has been outstanding, his freshman year did not meet his expectations and the 2005 season was full of disappointment.

In 2003, he caught 34 passes, but his average was only 11 yards per catch, and there were no touchdowns. During the Tigers' undefeated 2004 campaign, he pulled in 43 passes for 737 yards -- averaging more than 17 yards per catch -- with six touchdowns.

"You can't emphasize enough the difference that it made for our team when Coach Borges joined the staff," Taylor said, referring to offensive coordinator Al Borges who came to Auburn from Indiana after the 2003 season. "He brings such a competitive attitude. He's one of the most competitive guys I've ever been around.

"In some ways, you have to be greedy on offense. Sometimes you just have to go for the home run ball. Coach Borges stresses that you need to beat the other guy to the punch. But, if you don't happen to do that, it brings about another one of his favorite words -- 'recover.' Coach Borges says that the mark of a great offense is having the ability to recover."

Taylor says that Borges did bring a new playbook and new philosophy, but also realized that he was coming to a program with a good bit of talent and a lot of tradition.

"When he came to Auburn, he had the attitude of 'don't fix something that's not broken.' We weren't broken. We had the parts. We just had to execute to take advantage of our strengths. He told us that we could be one of the best offenses in the country, and he has been proven right."

Borges has also achieved another tough objective, according to Taylor.

"He keeps most everybody happy," Taylor said. "We have had so many talented running backs and receivers, so that's a challenging thing to do. That speaks so much for Coach Borges. I think he's a genius offensively. He'll emphasize the running game or the passing game, whatever it takes for us to win in a particular situation. He puts it on the players' shoulders. He says, 'I'll get the ball to the people that are making the plays.' And, that's what he does."

Often, Auburn's offense has put it on Taylor's shoulders, but never more than in the fading minutes of the 2004 game with LSU.

Undefeated Auburn trailed LSU, 9-3, with few minutes remaining and most of the field between them and the goal line. It would be the Tigers' last time to have the ball. It was now or never.

"It still feels like it happened just yesterday," Taylor recalled. "I still remember the stadium, the crowd, the noise."

What happened will forever be part of Auburn football lore. Senior quarterback Jason Campbell, who would win the SEC Most Valuable Player award that season, led the Tigers on an improbable drive for the win, completing two fourth-down passes along the way. That second pass for the critical first down was a diving catch by Taylor for a 12-yard gain to keep the drive alive. But, the next catch -- the scoring strike -- is the one that will never be forgotten.

"Jason was under such pressure on that play and was still able to make the throw," Taylor said. "I remember my first thought when Jason threw the ball. I saw their guy trying to come up on me, me seeing the ball rotate, watching it come toward me. What was I thinking? 'Please ... you better catch this ball, man!'

"Of course, that's something I'll remember the rest of my life. It was such a pivotal play in such a pivotal game. No matter what happens in the rest of my career ... going to the Pro Bowl or anything else ... that catch will probably always define who Courtney Taylor is in the minds of Auburn people."

Still, Taylor realizes the importance of the previous play.

"A lot of people will forget about that pass just before the touchdown. Anybody could have caught that touchdown pass. I was wide open and Jason made a great throw. But, the play before was fourth down and 12 yards to go. Fourth and 12! And, we don't convert that play, the game's over. Jason made a great throw and it was a difficult catch. If we don't make that, the touchdown pass never happens."

Taylor's stats and game-winning heroics, along with expectations created by Auburn's undefeated season, put the junior receiver on many 2005 preseason All-American checklists. Instead, it was a season of disappointment.

"I remember the play against Ball State," he said. "We had called a slant route and my foot just stuck in the ground. I kept trying to break tackles, but I knew I was hurt as soon as it happened."

Initially, Taylor and Auburn trainers thought it might have been a broken bone. Instead, it was a severe high ankle strain, an injury that hampered him the rest of the season.

"That pretty well killed my performance," he said.

"I couldn't make speed cuts and it was harder for me to break away from defenders. Mentally, I just felt useless. I couldn't contribute the way that I know I can and the way that the team needed me to. It was so frustrating. I came into the season with such high expectations for myself. It hurt not being able to do that."

For the season, he had 22 catches, averaging 12.6 yards per catch with one touchdown, not bad for the average receiver, but not nearly good enough for Courtney Taylor.

"You know, there was some good from it, though," he admitted. "It humbled me. I talked to my family and they reminded me of some things. My mother always says, 'You do nothing by yourself. It's God that's out there protecting you and keeping you healthy. Your talent comes from God.'

"Of course, that's right. After my sophomore season, I didn't think anybody could stop me. I started taking things for granted. This injury put things in the right perspective in my mind and heart. I know that I'm blessed and everything could be taken away at any time." :thumbsup:

Before the 2005 season, Taylor thought he might consider entering the NFL Draft early, but his health changed his viewpoint.

"I think I'm a first-round caliber receiver," he said. "After the way last season turned out, I think I would have been cheating myself if I came out early. But, when it really came down to it, I couldn't look myself in the mirror and honestly say that I wanted to leave Auburn yet. I guess it will be hard to ever say that I would really like to leave Auburn. The town. The fans. The college experience and atmosphere. It's 100 percent here." :yes:

Taylor joined a long line of recent all-star players who have decided to return to Auburn for their senior season rather than enter the NFL Draft -- Dontarrious Thomas, Karlos Dansby, Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Carlos Rogers, Marcus McNeill.

Among Auburn's recent All-American caliber players, only defensive end Stanley McGlover has elected to bypass his final season.

"There's a reason that so many decide to stay here," he explained. "It's a team chemistry thing. Everybody accepts everybody else as his brother. Our lives are so intertwined with each other.

"It starts with the coaching staff. Coach (Tommy) Tuberville always looks out for our best interest and it's that way with all of the coaches. And, the spiritual aspect of the team is so important. We look out for each other. We support each other. That transfers over to success on the field. You can't ever have your college experience again, so when the experience is so good, you have to really think a long time before giving it up." :thumbsup:

Again this season, Auburn has high goals and high expectations. The Tigers are a preseason Top 10 team, and Lindy's favorite to win the SEC Western Division title.

"Our main team goal is to focus and get better each week," Taylor said. "Of course, coaches always tell you take one week at a time, but we honestly try to do that. We want to get back to the SEC Championship Game ... and then to the 'Big Show.' Everybody knows we should have played in that game two seasons ago."

Taylor referred to Auburn's undefeated 2004 season, when despite defeating five Top 10 teams and winning the SEC championship, they were shut out of the BCS national championship game.

"We know what is ahead this season. Look at our schedule. Most of the top-rated teams in the SEC play right here at Jordan-Hare. If we do our jobs, if every position gets better game after game, this can be another special season."

How about individual goals?

"I'll set the bar as high as it can be set," said Taylor, who claims to again be full-speed. "I've never been much for specific personal goals. My goals have been more general. But, after last season, I'll have a couple of primary ones ... stay healthy and be on the field.

"I really want to prove that I'm the best receiver in the country. I see other receivers get more recognition, but we really feel that Auburn receivers are often overlooked. That's because we have had so much talent at the position that no one player has the great individual statistics.

"But, just look what our offense has done the past two seasons. Two years ago, we have two running backs and a quarterback taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. Then, this year we have three receivers that will be going into the NFL (Devin Aromashodu, Anthony Mix, Ben Obomanu). Those three guys taught me so much. One of the most important things is that personal numbers are not as important as the team's success." (Hear that Recruits?)

Taylor also has high praise for the Tigers' junior quarterback Brandon Cox, the understudy to Campbell in 2004 before leading Auburn to a nine-win season last year.

"It's a little different catching balls from Brandon because he's left-handed," Taylor pointed out. "The rotation of the ball is a little different. The ball dies in a different way when it's getting to you. You have to make minor adjustments to the way you're running routes to allow for that.

"But, with Brandon, it really doesn't make much difference. He's just so accurate and has such a strong arm. I call him 'The Quiet Assassin.' He just has that quiet demeanor, but he can eat teams alive. I've never seen a quarterback as cool under pressure. It doesn't matter if we've been pinned down near our own goal line. He'll stand in there and get the job done.

"Of course, I kid him that he has no choice about that. With that 5.7 speed, he's not going to outrun anybody, so he might as well stand in there and act cool!"

Taylor, the old high school quarterback, carries that joking over to his offensive coordinator.

"I stay on Coach Borges all the time," he said. "I know that I can still throw the ball. I'm no Brandon Cox or anything. That guy's got an arm, but I can still get it done." (Anyone else see more trick plays in that comment?)

So, Borges relented ... just once ... and let Taylor prove his arm. The results could not have been better.

It was last season, just one pass, but it went for a 28-yard touchdown. So, what if the ball wobbled a little and the receiver had to wait on the ball? It still counted six points.

"It wasn't pretty, but it worked." Taylor said. "When I came off the field, I told Coach Borges, 'See, I told you coach!' I'm one-for-one right now."

Not only did it leave Taylor with one completion, one touchdown and just one attempt. He had a gaudy 665.2 passing efficiency rating for the season. :lol:

"That's another 100 percent. How's that for passing efficiency?"

Taylor's joking nature and outgoing personality comes naturally.

"I was never shy," he admitted. "My teachers in elementary school would put me on the first row, the very first row. I sat right up front. But, that still didn't stop me from talking, no matter where they moved me.

"I've always wanted to be a leader and be a spokesman. I've wanted to be a main part of whatever I was doing. I am outspoken everywhere ... at church, at school, anywhere. That's the way God made me, I guess. I love people. I'm just happy about life. I like to make people smile."

Taylor has already made a lot of Auburn fans smile during his career, and he plans to do much more of the same this season. But, what about after his college and professional football days are over?

"I want to be an actor," he said. "No joke. I want to be a movie star. Chris Tucker is my favorite actor. I like action ... and drama. I want to be center stage."

Action ... and drama. That pretty well sums up Courtney Taylor's college career so far. And, if things finally do work out as he plans, he'll help Auburn to the center stage of college football at season's end.

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