Land of 10 has embarked on a series of Next Generation articles as Michigan writers Rachel Lenzi and Kevin Goheen travel the country to meet the incoming class of freshmen. This week, Kevin Goheen features RB Kurt Taylor Jr. of Covington, Ga.
COVINGTON, Ga. – Ivory Dennard was just getting into the personal training business when Kurt Taylor Sr. watched him put a group of young kids through various drills at a local park.
The two men had a discussion. Soon thereafter, eighth-grade student Kurt Taylor Jr. had another person to help him with his goal of playing Division I football.
Kurt Jr. is serious about his training, and once he starts a workout, there isn’t much that will interrupt him. But there are exceptions.
Dennard also coaches youth football. A couple of years ago, his team entered Team 3 Sports & Fitness, a training facility he owns.
“Kurt was training and then the kids came in and starting doing their workout,” Dennard said. “Kurt stopped what he was doing. He stopped working out with one of my other trainers to give a hand with those kids. After they got done, he was right there doing his situps with them, his pushups, and some of the kids that he saw had that hunger, he took a liking to them, and would always talk with them in the gym.”
Kurt Taylor Jr. has “that” hunger. Forget the national scouting sites or questions about how he landed in Michigan’s 2017 recruiting class, which ranked No. 5 in the 247Sports composite ratings. Taylor has heard and read the doubters, and their naysaying only fuels the 5-foot-9, 200-pound 3-star running back.
Not that he needs it. Taylor has self-motivation in abundance.
“Anywhere you go to, you’ve got to work hard,” he said. “Anywhere you go to. It’s all about the business. Work hard. It’s the business.”
From father to son
“Hard work is undefeated.”
It’s a rule of thumb Kurt Taylor Sr. has passed down to his son. Kurt Sr. grew up in New York City, and his passion for basketball earned him a scholarship at Hawaii, where he played as an undersized but never underworked guard from 1991-93.
“When I was coming up, playing point guard, the prototype point guard was 6-5, and to be a 5-11 point guard, 5-10, I always said you might have more talent than me but you won’t outwork me,” Kurt Sr. said. “Hard work is undefeated. It can’t be denied. I’ll always outwork the person in front of me, no matter who they are, no matter what.”
When Kurt Jr. suffered a broken leg in middle school, his father wouldn’t let him return to the field until he was fully ready to play. By the time they met Dennard, Kurt Jr. was ready to work.
According to Dennard, Kurt Jr. has lifted more than 400 pounds on the bench press and squatted more than 600, a testament to his overall strength. Dennard has counted his pupil producing 27 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. The most reps completed by a running back at this year’s NFL combine, which uses 225 pounds as its standard, was 23 by Christopher Carson of Oklahoma State. Florida State’s Dalvin Cook did 22.
— Kurt Taylor (@KurtTaylorRb2) May 6, 2017
“While we’re in here training, there’s not a whole lot of goofing around,” Dennard said. “He doesn’t do a whole lot of mingling with the other kids that we train. He’ll have a conversation with them once we start working out, but once we get on that green turf, we know it’s all business.
“That’s what I’ve told him, that once you step on that green, once you step on that turf, it’s always going to be about what you can do. It’s all about action.”
Competing against the best
Kurt Jr. was a backup on the JV team at Newton High School as a freshman. He earned playing time on the varsity as a sophomore, rushing for 462 yards and 4 touchdowns. But it was during his junior season in 2015 when Kurt Jr. opened eyes. He rushed for 22 touchdowns and 1,631 yards, drawing a scholarship offer by the middle of October from Michigan and first-year coach Jim Harbaugh. Kurt Jr. accepted.
But there would be no senior season at Newton.
Taylor was one of five high-profile players to transfer to nearby Grayson High School for the 2016 season. Safety DeAngelo Gibbs (early enrollee at Georgia), linebacker Breon Dixon (early enrollee at Mississippi), offensive lineman Tony Gray (Mississippi) and cornerback Jamyest Williams (South Carolina) joined a Grayson team that already had Clemson-bound quarterback Chase Brice. The situation didn’t sit well in a state that takes its high school football seriously.
The Georgia High School Association investigated the transfer cases and found them to be within its bylaws and regulations.
Jeff Herron has won 273 games and four state titles in 26 seasons as head coach at six Georgia schools. Herron took over the Grayson program last year amid the torrent of transfers.
Herron said he didn’t know why Taylor was transferring to Grayson. The running back already had his commitment to Michigan. Kurt Sr. was upfront and honest with Herron.
“He said, ‘Coach, we know here he’s going to get to compete every day against better people. That’s going to help him in the future, and he’s going to have a chance to win a championship, which is very important to him,’ ” Herron said. “Kurt [Jr.] and I never really talked about it again. It just seemed like he fit in from the very first day because he didn’t show up expecting anything. He just showed up and went to work.”
Taylor wasn’t the focal point of Grayson’s offense, but he rushed for 930 yards and 14 touchdowns, and caught 19 passes for 296 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Rams went 14-1, their only loss coming against national power IMG Academy of Bradenton, Fla. They beat Roswell 23-20 in overtime to win the Georgia Class AAAAAAA state title.
“I remember he was a tough running back, a tough back to tackle, because he fights for those extra yards,” said IMG linebacker Jordan Anthony, who will be Taylor’s teammate next season at Michigan. “I remember one play, they gave him a screen and he took it 20, 30 yards. He’s definitely tough to bring down.”
Grayson finished the season ranked No. 6 in the nation by MaxPreps and No. 7 in the USA Today Super 25. IMG went undefeated and was ranked No. 4 by MaxPreps and No. 2 by USA Today.
Taylor said he doesn’t regret the decision to switch schools.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “Just competing and practicing with the best athletes every day, and winning a state championship was everything. Senior year was the biggest part of my life.
“The biggest moment was when we won state, when we won the championship. We probably didn’t have our best game, but how we won, how we came back, I loved that.”
Back to Newton
Grayson was able to offer Taylor better competition and a chance to win a state title. What it couldn’t offer was his friends at Newton.
Taylor told his dad over Christmas break that he wanted to return to his former school. He wanted to graduate with his friends. Kurt Sr. had gotten an apartment in the Grayson school district and moved the family out of its house in Covington so his son could play football. Sacrifices had been made to give Kurt Jr. the opportunity at Grayson.
Dad wasn’t going to say “no” to this request. They moved back to their house in late January after Taylor played in the Polynesian Bowl All-Star game in Hawaii, and Taylor returned to Newton.
When Taylor tweeted photos of Harbaugh visiting him at the house, it caught the attention of Atlanta TV station FOX 5. The station ran a story questioning whether the Taylors had gamed the system.
The report prompted a second investigation by the GHSA. Again, the governing body of Georgia high school athletics found no wrongdoing.
“The investigation has concluded and no rules violations were discovered that would change the outcome of the Grayson season,” GHSA spokesman Steve Figueroa wrote in an email to Landof10.com.
Kurt Sr. didn’t publicly say much during the second investigation, other than to maintain that he had done nothing wrong. His claims were backed up by the GHSA.
“Everything I did was right,” Kurt Sr. said. “All I did was put my son in a situation where he could be better equipped for the future. I’m so happy for him, I can’t explain it. I can’t tell you how hard he works. As a father, I’m so proud of him. I’ll tell everyone, I just love his work ethic.”
The football machine
Quiet is an understated way of describing Taylor.
“That might be a better way of saying it; he’s very businesslike, almost like a football machine,” Herron said. “The machine doesn’t talk, the machine just works and it works well.”
That is why the Grayson High coach believes Taylor can succeed at Michigan, even if he’s not the highest-rated player in the running backs room.
“Everyone’s got great players and Michigan is like everyone else at that level, but I think the reason he’s got a chance is because he does have all those intangibles,” Herron said. “He doesn’t get bent out of shape about how many times he carries the ball. He doesn’t get bent out of shape if you ask him to block. He doesn’t get bent out of shape about anything.
“I think he’s a mature kid for his age and his approach to the game is already the kind of approach they want him to have in college. Because of that, I think he’ll be able to fit in pretty good.”
Taylor is confident he’ll do more than fit in at Michigan. He sees himself in a similar light as one recent Wolverine.
“Jabrill Peppers,” Taylor said. “He’s just a dawg, man. You see him everywhere around the field. When he’s on the field, he does his thing. He’s energized. You’re going to see him.”
Taylor expects people to see him, too, even if they won’t hear much from him.
“I’ll bring it in my own way, a humble way.”