Sophomore defensive back Reese Taylor has exuded confidence on the football field since at least the sixth grade.
Playing quarterback in the Indiana Elementary Football Association championship with the best 11 and 12-year-olds in the state, Taylor had one minute to lead the offense 80 yards and win the game with a touchdown.
He rolled out for a last second pass and looked for Broc Thompson, now a receiver at Marshall University, more than 20 yards downfield in the back corner of the end zone. With their future high school head coach, Mike Kirschner, in attendance, Taylor flawlessly completed a one-minute drill with a game-winning heave to Thompson.
“There wasn’t any doubt in his mind when he came off the field that he wasn’t going to do that,” Kirschner said. “That’s the kind of special football player he was — and that was as a 12-year-old.”
Six years later, Taylor found himself a part of another championship team, quarterbacking Kirschner’s undefeated, Class 6A state-winning team his senior season at Ben Davis High School. He accounted for 3,952 yards and 55 total touchdowns before earning 2017 Mr. Football honors.
Taylor’s height, however, kept him from being recruited to play quarterback at the next level. With a position change looming at the start of his college career, Taylor was eager to continue playing the sport he loved – even if it meant learning an entirely new spot on the field.
“Can’t say ‘no’ to a coach,” Taylor said. “I’m gonna do anything they ask me to do.”
Taylor always begged his Ben Davis High School coaches to let him play both sides of the ball and return punts and kicks. Kirschner had more than 200 students in his program looking for time on the field, but he also couldn’t afford to lose his most dynamic play-maker to injury.
“Reese was kind of the cog, he made the offense go,” Kirschner said. “He practiced DB, just in case we needed him in an emergency situation. Once he became the full-time starting quarterback, we rarely thought about putting him in on defense.”
The moment Kirschner knew he was dealing with such a special talent came in the 2017 sectionals. Ben Davis drew Warren Central High School for the game, a team they defeated 45-14 in the regular season.
With a chance to retake the lead inside the red zone, Taylor uncharacteristically turned the ball over with a fumble and calmly headed back to the sideline.
“I could see by the look in his eye he was really upset with himself,” Kirschner recalled. “All he said was, 'I want the ball. It won’t happen again.' That told me we were in good shape.”
Ben Davis was trailing by six at the time of the fumble before rattling off 29 unanswered points and winning 36-29.
“He didn’t fumble again," Kirschner said. "He never flinched. He wanted the ball in his hands, and that’s the sign of a champion.”
Coming into his freshman year of college, Taylor faced some more adversity as an undersized quarterback filling in at multiple spots on the field.
Taylor began in IU’s secondary before quickly switching back to offense. He was the third option at quarterback for the Hoosiers his freshman year behind Michael Penix Jr. and Peyton Rasmsey, but he never played any downs under center.
The then-freshman, however, played in all 12 games and proved himself a do-it-all talent. Taylor’s raw athleticism simply couldn’t be ignored so IU’s coaching staff found ways to incorporate him into certain packages at both receiver and running back.
Taylor recorded at least one reception in each game of the season, including a game-high six catches in a Homecoming loss to Iowa. For the final four games of the season, he served as Ramsey’s backup quarterback after Penix Jr.’s season-ending ACL injury.
“When I played quarterback last year, I was just trying to get the plays down as best I can,” Taylor said. “I had to do more than usual because I was playing more than one position. It was challenging at points but I still overcame it.”
Taylor was still positionless entering his sophomore season despite his initial performance on offense. He said he talked it over with IU head coach Tom Allen but it ultimately was his own decision.
“I feel like me at corner is going to help me get to the next level,” Taylor said. “Me at corner is basically a quarterback backwards. I know the route, the timing, how everything’s supposed to be run.”
What Taylor lacked in length and experience at the position he made up for with speed, ball skills and a developed understanding of opposing offenses.
His football IQ and skillset helped him at cornerback, but that’s just part of how he found a home on defense.
“He never came to practice not wanting to play," Kirschner said. "He knew that’s how he’d get better."
Taylor’s permanent return to defense this season was overshadowed by a hand injury he had been dealing with since fall camp. He missed the season opener against Ball State University and recorded two tackles in his first four appearances.
The sophomore’s first stand out game came on the road against Maryland. Taylor registered three tackles and stood his ground in coverage. His last snap of the day, however, was his best.
The Terrapins were driving late with a chance to steal the game from the Hoosiers, but Taylor instinctively tracked down an overthrown ball near the end zone for a diving interception that sealed the victory.
“His ball skills are so unique and his foot speed is so quick, that makes the transition over to defense pretty easy,” Kirschner said.
Taylor saw his time in the cornerback rotation continue to rise throughout the season. By the Purdue game on Nov. 30, Allen had listed him on the depth chart as the starter opposite freshman Tiawan Mullen.
The Hoosiers needed overtime to beat the Boilermakers, and it was Taylor’s clutch fourth down pass break up that got it there in the first place. The Indianapolis native made his second career start in the Gator Bowl and is among the team’s lead returning defensive backs.
“He just keeps getting better and better, tough kid,” Allen said of Taylor on Nov. 25. “His best football at that position is ahead of him.”