There was nothing amusing about the upcoming play in the eighth-grade football game. Tre King was at quarterback, looking for a first down, and he yelled, “Down! Set! Hut!”
Suddenly King paused, because Carlos Taylor, playing defense, started singing.
In the middle of the game.
“That’s intimidating,” said King, now a senior running back at Heights. “I didn’t know what to do.”
It was a moment that encapsulates the personality of Taylor, now a senior defensive end at Heights and one of King’s friends.
Taylor continues to catch those who even know him well off guard. He’s got the ability to disarm a person with his smile.
If it’s a tense moment in practice, count on Taylor to drop a funny line that forces an involuntary laugh from coach Terry Harrison.
“He’s not a class clown,” Harrison said. “It’s just simply, when things are hard at practice, he makes it more fun at practice. That is leadership.”
Taylor is a beast on the field, consistently grading out high in every skill area that his coaches can think to test him. He’s a violent tackler who offensive players must keep in their sights.
But he has fun. Every play, every drill, every moment.
“The biggest thing is he just has fun competing, maybe more than any kid I’ve ever seen,” Harrison said. “He can compete hard and play hard and be extremely competitive and tough, and at the same time he enjoys it. It’s a positive vibe that rubs off on our team. It makes practice more fun. It makes competition more fun for everyone, the coaches and the kids.”
Harrison believes the fun of football too often is coached out of athletes. The focus is on drill, drill, drill and win, win, win.
Football is often referred to as a grind — you’ve gotta be a grinder, then go on home.
Not for Taylor. There’s no erasing the fun for Taylor.
“I wouldn’t play this game if it wasn’t fun,” said Taylor, who also plays basketball. “It’s me hanging out with my friends. That’s fun.”
Heights is a contender to win the Class 5A title in the stacked western half of the state, but to win another title — Heights won 6A in 2010 — the Falcons are emphasizing fun.
They are eager to put parts of the 2013 season behind. While they finished 7-4 and had a chance to advance to a semifinal at Derby, the end of the season was rough.
“The fun disappeared when all the selfishness started to come toward the end of the year,” Taylor said. “When people start only looking out for themselves, that’s when it disintegrated.”
So Harrison has put a renewed emphasis on the fun of football.
“We had a meeting and decided as coaches and seniors that our No. 1 requirement in football is you have to have fun,” he said. “That’s our No. 1 goal, that we’re going to have fun every day in practice and games.
“You don’t want to come across that you’re not serious about it, but when we make a play, we’re going to be excited about it. We will celebrate that play and success together. It’s not coming across as arrogant or show-boating. That’s not for us.”
To be tasked with this revolution, this infusion of more enjoyment into football, was perfect for Taylor. Since a toddler he has brought smiles and laughs with ease.
“He’s like sunshine,” his mother, Tyanne, said. “If someone’s having a bad day, he’ll brighten it up.”
Taylor isn’t only leading the fun; he’s unafraid of work.
“He never takes a break,” said his father, also named Carlos. “He takes it serious, never plays around. Once everybody sees how hard he goes, they follow suit.”
Taylor has started on the defensive line since his sophomore season, and Harrison said this offseason was his best yet.
“Every max, every test, he’s gotten faster, he’s gotten bigger, he’s gotten stronger,” Harrison said.
“… He’s very quick off the ball. His first three steps are so fast, and he’s got such great hands. Just his speed alone makes him hard to stop, but then you add that he’s technically strong and he’s added strength. I think he’s able to be blocked, but definitely not on a consistent basis.”
Taylor played for two years with Aderio Ammons, a three-time All-Metro selection. While Ammons (6-foot, 245 pounds) got more attention with postseason honors, Taylor could have had the same.
But he’s 5-11, 235 pounds, which also has limited him when it comes to interest from major colleges.
“He’s a little undersized,” Harrison said. “ (But) to find defensive linemen who are as talented as Carlos, it’s pretty hard to do.”
“… We had over 40 colleges in last spring, and they were watching Aderio last year and some of our other kids. They all wondered ‘Who is No. 90? Who is No. 90?’ ”
Taylor doesn’t have to search out the spotlight. It naturally finds him.
Opponents already know who he is, but whether he will get a coveted major-college offer will depend on whether a coach is willing to give him a chance.
Scholarships aren’t Taylor’s concern right now.
“I want to do whatever it takes for us to win,” he said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get us back on that same run when we were playing in state championship games.
“If I have to take on a blocker from linebacker, I’ll do it. If I have to get him throwing the ball, I’ll do it.”
Such dedication is expected by Harrison.
“Carlos has put in his time, paid his dues, is on time to everything we do and never misses anything,” he said. “Carlos Taylor is invested in Heights football. Period.”