As training camp approached, UB head coach Jeff Quinn was chided about the embarrassment of riches he has at running back this year. It all begins with senior Branden Oliver, who as a sophomore set the school single-season yardage record. It continues with Devin Campbell, who had an impact as a true freshman, with James Potts, a speedster, and with Brandon Murie, who made solid contributions in a backup role last year.
“The guy everybody forgets about,” Quinn said, “is Anthone Taylor.”
Taylor was out of sight but certainly not out of Quinn’s mind last season while recovering from a torn knee ligament. He came back healthy in the spring and reminded everybody of the promise he had shown as a freshman. The coaches were eager to see him get it going again in training camp and Taylor hasn’t disappointed. He looks like the back most likely to spell Oliver this year and someone who can also make an impact as a short-route receiver. He has great hands and the ability to accelerate as he turns the corner off a catch.
“He has some extraordinary talent, the kind of talent you don’t see a lot,” said running backs coach Matt Simon, who coached former NFL rushing champions Jamal Lewis and LaDainian Tomlinson. “I’ve seen it at the next level, but I’ve seen guys like that not produce either so there’s a work in progress there. But I think this is a kid that could impress you. I think if he’ll work hard enough he is going to be special.”
Sixteen months ago the Bulls were involved in spring practice when Taylor felt shooting pain. He went to block a defender during drills, but the defender fell coming off another block. He slid underneath Taylor, buckling his knee. The collision tore Taylor’s MCL and meniscus.
“I knew something bad had happened because it was a pain I had never felt before in my leg,” Taylor said. “I’ve been through injuries and I’ve been able to play through pain but this was something I knew I couldn’t play with.”
Taylor believes things happen for a reason. What was he supposed to learn from this? What role was the injury to play in his football career and his life?
“When it happened I knew God was doing this for a reason,” he said. “He was teaching me a lesson that the game could be taken from you so easily and you got to make every day count.”
Taylor’s willingness to accept coaching and improve his technique has him running in a style similar to Oliver’s. Both have a low center of gravity. Both appear in total control when they change direction. It hasn’t happened by accident.
“Coach Simon, he hammers into our head to get our pad level low,” Taylor said. “If you have a low pad level, it generates so much more power and he just instills that power running is low running and he wants us to have that good center of balance. You can’t really do nothing if you’re standing up high and it’s easy to get knocked over. If you’re low you can bounce back and get your balance a lot easier.”
“I’d like to think it’s something that marks a running back I’ve coached,” Simon said. “It’s something I’ve emphasized in my career that’s brought a lot of success. All my guys have kind of embraced that trademark and done very well with it.
“We do a lot of drills to emphasize it. We do a lot of things, teaching mechanisms to try and work on those things. And then I try to do a good job as a coach of paying attention to individual flaws that each guys has and try to work with him on how to improve it.”
The Bulls have worked a lot with the pistol formation this training camp because it enables them to utilize players, particularly running backs, they might otherwise be challenged to get on the field.
With Oliver serving as workhorse, there are few carries to go around.
Taylor, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound sophomore from Huber Heights, Ohio, knows the situation. He’ll be happy if called upon to spell Oliver but feels he can help the Bulls win games no matter what his role.
“I’m just hoping I can make a difference even if I don’t play offense,” Taylor said. “I hope I can get in on special teams and make plays and just be a playmaker.”