“Recruit and develop” has become a bit of a rallying cry for the University of Kentucky football team in recent years. Josh Allen’s dramatic leap from a two-star prospect and the No. 2,121 player in his class into the nation’s top defensive player and the No. 7 pick in the NFL Draft certainly helped solidify the phrase.
Throughout the day, I’ll be showcasing three additional Wildcats who fit with that same expression – recruit and develop. The first profile of the batch, TJ Carter, is available here. Ahmad Wagner’s story is available here.
Now, here’s a look at the day’s final story: it’s Calvin Taylor, and his journey from UK to the Steelers.
Any player who comes to Kentucky undervalued and sparsely recruited draws comparisons to Josh Allen. There’s something kind but unfair about trying to stack up every player who begins to exceed expectations against the player who defined such success at Kentucky. Even though he didn’t become the No. 7 pick in the NFL Draft, Calvin Taylor Jr. deserves the comparison. He can certainly handle it.
Like Allen (see, it’s easy to do), Calvin came to Kentucky without many other options. The Herald-Leader detailed the entire story. When his offer from Temple fell through during his senior year of high school, Taylor thought the only remaining option was a junior college. He got in touch with a JUCO coach, and the two began a conversation about Taylor’s next step. It didn’t take long for the coach to realize Taylor “wasn’t a JUCO kid.” The 6-foot-9 player had the tape and the grades to make it on a roster at a Division I school. That JUCO coach quickly put Calvin in touch with Jimmy Brumbaugh, who was serving as Kentucky’s defensive line coach at the time. As the cliché goes, “the rest is history.”
Four years of blood, sweat and (probably) some tears later, Taylor finished his career at Kentucky with his impressive stat line. In his final season, he recorded 8.5 sacks, good for the second-most in the SEC. Taylor started in 22 of the 40 games he played with the Wildcats, and he finished his collegiate career with 85 total tackles (16.5 tackles for loss), 10.5 sacks, five pass break-ups, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
He had plenty of big moments during his final season. His impressive performance in the closing minutes of UK’s win over Arkansas comes to mind, as do the confident statements he made in the days leading up to the annual Governor’s Cup game. As the Wildcats were preparing to take on the Louisville Cardinals, Taylor didn’t have a doubt in the world which team would end the day in victory, telling reporters “we will win” mere days before the big game.
Later, Taylor admitted his coaches did not appreciate his statements, telling KSR’s Nick Roush “it was a rough week.”
“But at the same time — I didn’t understand it. I’m not a person to believe in bulletin board material. It’s not going to change the way we were going to have to play, so I never understood that. All my teammates were like, ‘what were you supposed to say?’” Taylor said on Roush’s radio show, Kentucky Roll Call. “We were cool with it. We were so confident that we were going to win, so it was no problem.”
That’s the attitude and the confidence Taylor always displays. It took him time to develop (who does that sound like?), but his talents were on full display in time for his senior season. Like seniors everywhere, his final few months of college were derailed due to COVID-19 – he lost access to UK’s training facilities and he didn’t get to participate in UK’s annual Pro Day. Still, Taylor tried to find the positives.
“The Pro Day (postponement) was gut-wrenching because there’s a lot of guys that have put in a lot of work. A lot of people all over the country have put in a lot of work to showcase some things,” Taylor said on Kentucky Roll Call. “It’s just kind of sad to not be able to showcase that, but everything happens for a reason.”
That could be the mantra for the past several years of Calvin Taylor’s life. If the Temple assistant coach who was originally recruiting him hadn’t left the program, maybe he’d be graduating as an Owl rather than as a Wildcat. If that one JUCO coach had decided to put his program’s needs over a player’s best interests, maybe Taylor would have gotten stuck in the junior-college circuit forever. What if that coach’s defensive line contact was at a school other than Kentucky? There’s a world of possibilities, but none of those matter now. Calvin Taylor was and always will be a Wildcat, and like he says, everything happens for a reason.
“It’s a great story for Calvin,” head coach Mark Stoops said during the season. “Nobody was recruiting him. We took a shot on him, and he did his part, worked extremely hard.”
Now, that hard work can begin paying off at the next level. Although he didn’t get his one final chance to show off his skills with a Pro Day or with a team visit, Taylor had already done enough. He was able to speak with NFL teams via text or phone call, which eventually helped lead Taylor to a deal with the Pittsburg Steelers. The former Cat made the announcement on twitter Saturday evening, and another former Cat was quick to respond.
LETSSS GOO! https://t.co/6UDeCwy6Wf
— Mr SNELL YA LATER?? (@benny_snell) April 26, 2020
Add in Bud Dupree, and the Wildcats are quickly becoming a pipeline for Steelers talent. For whatever reason, a significant percentage of the BBN seems to feel animosity toward the Black and Gold team, but seeing Taylor fight for a chance in the league alongside two other former Wildcats is a pretty sweet return on all of Taylor’s investments.
Calvin Taylor was an unranked recruit; Snell and Dupree were both three-star prospects. Now, all three have come through the University of Kentucky’s program, and all three are set to compete in the NFL for the Steelers. How’s that for recruit and develop?
Hey, everything happens for a reason.