OSU began the season in a renovated Boone Pickens Stadium with high expectations after a nine-win season. But would the Cowboys live up to the hype? Could they take the next step in Gundy’s fifth year as head coach? And could that improvement be sustained over time?
Taylor began that season buried in the depth chart. College offensive lineman aren’t guaranteed anything their first year on campus – especially in the Big 12. Would Taylor, an All-District, top-300 Texas recruit from Martin High School in Arlington, ever get his shot? Would he be one of the next great linemen to be coached under the legendary Joe Wickline?
Over the next four years, those questions were answered with a resounding, yes.
The Cowboys won 9 games, then 11, then 12 in the following seasons – capped off with a Fiesta Bowl Championship in 2011. Taylor was given the opportunity to start his freshman season when teammates when down with injury. He hasn’t missed a game since, racking up awards along the way.
Taylor made the honorable mention All-Big 12 roster last season. This year, he was a unanimous first team All-Big 12 pick. And despite a lackluster record this season, Taylor has done as the Cowboys have since he’s stepped on campus – rose to the occasion.
So, as he reflects on his OSU career that will end after the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Tuesday, there are few sour memories.
“There’s nothing I regret, so I’m not going to be too sad that it’s coming to an end,” Taylor said. “I had a good run. I got to play for four years, so it doesn’t get much better than that.
“You really don’t realize it until you get a little older and think, ‘Oh man, I had a pretty good opportunity.’ It was great, it was awesome. I’m glad I got thrown in the fire (as a freshman). It really turned me into the player I am today.”
In the past two seasons, Taylor hasn’t allowed a sack. He credits much of that success to Wickline.
“(Wickline) was a big part of my career,” Taylor said. “He’s molded me into the player I am today, with all my techniques and knowledge about football.”
As the Cowboys prepare for Purdue, Taylor’s understands his role will be of utmost importance.
“You’ve got to be able to run the ball on them,” Taylor said. “That’s their biggest strength, stopping the run. So that will be the biggest challenge for us … They can slowly put you to sleep. They have a good defense, their record doesn’t show it, but they’re a solid defense.”
While his main focus will be on the Boilermakers in the days leading up to the game, Taylor has football visions that extend beyond January.
“I definitely want to go into the draft next year,” Taylor said. “That’s my goal and that’s what I’ll be playing for.”
It’s hard to say where Taylor will land on April 25 – or if he’ll even be selected in the NFL Draft. At 6-foot-3, 328 pounds, he’s got the physical tools to reach the next level, but his status will depend heavily on a solid turnout at the NFL combine in February.
NFLdraftscout.com ranks Taylor No. 13 among draft eligible offensive guards, while CBS sports reported at the beginning of the season that he is projected to be a seventh-round pick or free agent pickup.
On where Taylor thinks he will land in the draft: “I have no idea. I’ve heard a little bit of everything.”
He has no reason to panic. With the advice of former OSU offensive lineman Levy Adcock, he’s taken on the strategy that hard work equals succes. But all that NFL talk can wait until next week. For now, he’s got a few more days to reflect on his OSU career and take it all in.
Taylor’s favorite moment from his OSU career? That’s easy.
“Last year, being the winningest school in history, that’s something that will be here for a while,” Taylor said. “Something that will go down in the record books.”