CB Taylor seizes his opportunity

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Blake Countess was on the sidelines, having his knee looked at. Courtney Avery had slipped while covering an Alabama receiver, burned badly on a route that led to another Crimson Tide score. And here was Raymon Taylor, lining up at cornerback, in a position that 90 minutes earlier seemed improbable.

So Taylor's first major playing experience as a sophomore was a bit overwhelming.

"At first it was, yeah," Taylor said.

This had been the moment Taylor had prepared for his entire life, even if it arose because of an injury. It was the moment on which his coaches and mentors had kept him focused from the moment they realized he had a chance to play college football and escape his inner-city Detroit community, with college football opening a door to a quality education.

Cedric Dortch, Taylor's high school coach at Highland Park, saw the potential in the cornerback almost six years ago, before Taylor's freshman high school season started. When the kid stepped on the high school field for the first time, he became his team's most athletic player.

He immediately started at cornerback and receiver. Within the first month of his first season, when Dortch said Taylor dominated a game against Romulus High as a receiver when his team needed it, Dortch knew Taylor could be special.

"He was always the best athlete on the field, but he lacked a little confidence," the coach said. "Once in a while you could tell he didn't know it, but as coaches you just know this kid was something special.

"It took him a little while to grow into it and realize it."

Once Dortch saw Taylor's talent, he began driving home the same thing he had with other players through the years who had the potential to play in college: All the athleticism in the world would mean nothing if they couldn't qualify academically.

To illustrate his point, he made sure Taylor stayed in contact with an old friend, someone Taylor grew up with, someone who had became a mentor -- former Indiana linebacker Darius Johnson. Johnson would counsel Taylor often, tell him how important school was and also, when Taylor's recruitment started, would aid him in the decision process.

Even when Taylor initially selected the Hoosiers before eventually backing out and choosing Michigan, Johnson's message was the same. Don't go to a school because a friend is there. Make sure it is the right decision for Taylor and Taylor only.

"I told him he got an offer from the Big House, how many kids can say they got that," Johnson said. "But I told him, 'It is a decision you have to make.' I didn't lean him toward IU or Michigan. I just told him, 'You have to make that decision.'

"Whatever decision you make, you have to do what's in your heart and what you want to do. You don't want to go anywhere you aren't happy at."

Happy eventually meant heading to Michigan, where Taylor started to realize that the natural ability he was able to get by with -- and excel with -- in high school would need some mental refining in college. He would play as a freshman, but he wouldn't start for the first time in his career.

In some ways, this was good for Taylor. He was able to learn as he played, without having to be out there on every down.

"It's different when you're just second string than when you are a starter," he said. "It's a whole different place and a whole new world. When you're a starter, you have to make plays."

Making plays is what Taylor has done his entire life, from Highland Park to Michigan, where he is now finding the same comfort level he had in high school.

"He's a magnet," Dortch said. "That football, he's around it, and if he's in the vicinity he's going to make a play."

So far, Taylor has shown that. Against Alabama, he recovered a fumble and had a career-high seven tackles. Since taking the starting job before the UMass game, Taylor has intercepted passes in two of his three starts, including a 63-yard return for a touchdown last week.

While the on-field confidence is starting to show, Johnson wanted to make sure Taylor understood the opportunity he had for a second time. Last month, as the Wolverines were on the drive to Notre Dame -- the day before Taylor would intercept his first pass of the season -- Johnson sent a text message to his friend.

"I told him regardless of how he got the position where he got the start, it's his position to lose now," Johnson said. "It's his spot to lose."

The way he's playing, Taylor is looking like he isn't planning on giving it up any time soon.