Tough as nails
Zach Taylor
Zach Taylor

Posted Feb 14, 2010

Walk-ons seems to be tough by nature. It's what you recruit, I suppose. You want tough kids, both mentally and physically. Well, Lincoln Southeast's Zach Taylor is tough all right. He plays tough, runs tough and basically is tough. That's why when he's looking at walking on as a running back at Nebraska, he doesn't think of what he can't do, but what he wants to do: compete

Just to get you in the mood of this article, check out this video. It's a touchdown run by Lincoln Southeast running back and future walk-on at Nebraska, Zach Taylor. It's one of those runs that you simply have to watch, because it's kind of hard to explain.

The run gives you a slight window into just how Taylor approaches the game. But what you don’t see on that particular run are holes.

Gashes, actually.

Two of them, at the bottom portion of his back, incurred earlier in that game which was the third contest of the season.

“I think it was around the third quarter, and it was a run left and one of the defensive ends put his facemask right into my back, and I guess I broke two bones,” Taylor said. “I went to the sidelines to have my trainer look at it, and I had two big gashes in my back.

“I still have scars today from that.”

Not sure what the percentage is of players who would have hung it up right there. But that stellar run where he broke tackles from seemingly all but two of the players for Papillion La Vista South, came after he had taken that shot from behind.

From the point of that injury Taylor battled it, actually had to miss a game, but came back after the doctors told him that he was good to go. “They said that it wasn’t anything serious. Those bones weren’t in a real vital area, so once the pain was gone I could go back to playing,” Taylor said.

He did that, helping his team to a 9-2 record, the first winning record in five years for Southeast. Along the way they defeated Millard West, the previous season’s state champ as well as Lincoln Southwest, the school which may actually get a lot of the blame for the situation Lincoln Southeast found itself in prior to this last year.

“It was tough here for awhile. I know that when the new schools opened up like Southwest, we just didn’t have the numbers anymore. Coach (John) Larsen used to talk about it all the time,” Taylor said. “He used to talk about how our numbers are growing, we are getting better and this last year it just kind of showed.”

It certainly showed for Taylor who notched over 1,200 yards on the ground, scoring 10 touchdowns, which he added to an average of almost 40 yards per kickoff return, one going back over 90 yards for a score. And on defense Taylor was picked first-team all state by the Omaha World Herald.

It was a year where Taylor said things really came together, but they did so even before the season began. “We just had more guys committed to winning. We had a couple of new coaches, and I know one of them used to have us in the weight room early in the morning over the Summer,” he said. “I think our senior class just wanted it more than maybe other classes before us. We just wanted to win and we wanted our last year to be something special.”

Back to Taylor, though, whether it’s from football, rugby or ice hockey, three sports he’s played much of his high school life, there is an obvious amount of toughness you are going to get from any  one of them, but especially from all three. Along with the balance he says he got from playing ice hockey as much as he has, it’s equated to someone who thinks about only one thing once the ball touches his hands.

“Yards after contact. That’s big for me. I don’t mean to brag, but I don’t think I have ever been taken down by the first guy to get his hands on me. Not much anyway,” he said. “And it’s kind of odd, because most people would expect that I run with my pads down. But from rugby you run a little more upright. But you still are going to get hit.”

It’s a style that he figures is part physical-part finesse…with a little more physical thrown in.

One has to remember, though, that Taylor was once recorded running a 4.5 in the 40. That’s not bad, not bad at all.

So, when he tried to outrun the other guy, more often than not he succeeded. But it doesn’t get away from what he’d rather do, given the choice. “Oh, I’d probably run them over if I had the chance. But if I am going to get more yards going around them, I’ll do that too,” he said.

It was a big year for him and his team. He had proven to be a major impact player on a team which did something that the LSE of old used to do all the time when names like Ruud graced their field. And it was big for him when Nebraska came to him and asked him to walk on.

No, it wasn’t a written offer. But Taylor had few reservations about what he wanted to do, even though he did have an offer from Concordia, a member institution of NAIA.

He even sort of remembers the conversation he was having with his parents when the walk on offer was extended.

“I was kind of listening. I mean, I care what my parents have to say and they had the final word. But my mind was basically made up,” Taylor said. “I wasn’t really paying attention to what they were saying. I knew what I wanted to do.”

It’s not necessarily wanting that chance to do something special, Taylor stated. He said it was about wondering if something special would have happened there if he had gone someplace else. “You don’t want to wonder what could have happened. I wasn't going to deal with that. I was going to go in there and just work by butt off and whatever happens, happens,” he said.

He’ll be positioned at running back, which when you think about it you wonder if he might have chose something else. Maybe he could play linebacker. Maybe even safety. Or maybe fullback?

Actually, check that on fullback.

For Taylor, who does actually like having the ball in his hands, that position wasn’t an option. “I don’t remember the last time a fullback carried the ball for them. Actually, how much do they actually play,” he said.

Nope, it was running back, and he would be going through the interesting mental challenge of now competing against players who just a year ago he supported. “Yeah, that will be strange. I mean, guys like Helu Jr. and Burkhead, I was just in the stands cheering those guys on last year. And now I am going to be suited up along side them. That will be kind of strange,” he said.

The strangeness aside, Taylor said he has much respect for those he’ll be playing alongside. But he has no fear. “I compete. That’s what I do. That’s what I am going to do when I get there,” he said. “Just because I have seen these guys do amazing things, it’s not like I think I can’t even hang with them.

“I don’t have any fear of anyone. I am just going to work like crazy and see what happens.”

It could make him perfect for those short yardage situations, especially after you have seen him run. Taylor doesn’t mind getting a little dirty inside. Point of fact, he said fine, that’s great, give him the ball – he’ll get you those one or two yards if it kills him.

That’s what he’s there to do.

“Hey, if they need those two yards and I am the one who can get them those consistently, that’s great. I just want to help the team,” he said. “Besides, I don’t mind putting my head down and hammering at people. I am kind of used to it.”




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