The Best CFB Player You've Never Heard Of: Louisiana Tech's Trent Taylor

C.J. Moore@@CJMooreBRCollege Basketball National Lead WriterDecember 20, 2016

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - SEPTEMBER 3:  Trent Taylor #5 of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs runs the ball during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on September 3, 2016 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Razorbacks defeated the Bulldogs 21-20.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Louisiana Tech's Trent Taylor, the school's all-time leader in receptions, was running a deep route at practice earlier this season when he noticed a Ryan Higgins pass coming in low.

As it approached Taylor in the end zone, he turned his butt toward the ball, let it sail between his legs and caught it for a touchdown.

"Everyone kind of freaked out," Taylor said.

Taylor regularly turns Louisiana Tech practices into his own little circus. He catches punts behind his back and between his legs, and his pass-catching theatrics would play well with the Harlem Globetrotters.

And on Saturdays, Taylor and the Bulldogs have made defenses look like the Washington Generals.

Louisiana Tech averages 44 points per game, and its offense includes the nation's most dangerous trio: Taylor (second nationally in catches and third in receiving yards), Higgins (third in passing yards) and speedster Carlos Henderson (tied for second in touchdown catches with 17).

Taylor will put a bow on a record-setting career Friday in the Armed Forces Bowl against Navy. He's already sixth on the NCAA's all-time receptions list, and with eight more catches Friday—he averages 9.5 per game on the season—he'd move into third. He's 17th all-time in receiving yards, and his yearly average (120.8) would move him into 14th. 

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 19:  Trent Taylor #5 of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs celebrates a touchdown against the Arkansas State Red Wolves during the second quarter of the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 19, 2015
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

And he had just one scholarship offer out of high school.

The explanation for that is simple: Trent Taylor is 5'8".

Taylor was a star at nearby Evangel Christian Academy. He put up 1,650 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior, and he was the MVP in the state title game. But his height kept recruiters away, and it even took convincing to get Louisiana Tech to take a shot.

Evangel head coach Byron Dawson had a strong relationship with former Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes. Dykes had recruited Dawson's brother, Keyunta Dawson, to Texas Tech. Dawson told Dykes that Taylor reminded him of Wes Welker, whom Dykes had also coached at Texas Tech.

"I remember Coach Dykes telling me, 'Wes Welker played defense in high school and he was a tough kid,'" Dawson said. "I remember telling him that Trent Taylor not only plays defense for us, he's one of our hardest hitters, and at that time in the season, he was leading the state in picks. He had five picks in the first three football games that year."

Dykes took a shot on Taylor, and Skip Holtz kept the commitment when he got the job after Dykes left in December 2012 to become the head coach at California.

Taylor was an impact player as a true freshman, catching 28 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns that year from the slot.

Taylor's role has evolved through the years due to an effort to get him the ball more often.  

"When you have that kind of production, you have to move him around," Holtz said. "You don't always want people knowing where he's going to be, because then he's too easy to double cover. We've had to get kind of inventive with some of the formations."

Parker Waters/Associated Press/Associated Press

That has been a sound strategy, as a pass in Taylor's direction rarely hits the ground no matter the trajectory. Among wide receivers who have played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps, Taylor has the third-lowest drop rate in the nation at 3.15 percent, according to Pro Football Focus

"I can't tell you how many balls he's laid out to get where you didn't think there was any chance he could go get it," Holtz said. 

That's an attribute that could get Taylor a look in the NFL. He's a long shot to get drafted, but he's in the mold of a Welker or Dallas Cowboys slot receiver Cole Beasley, both undrafted players. 

"I know it's not going to be easy to make it into the NFL," Taylor said. "That's the elite of the elite. It's something that I've always wanted to do. I just need one team to give me an opportunity, and that's all I can ask for."

Taylor showed his full arsenal of abilities this year in part because of the chemistry he had with his quarterback. Higgins started six games as a freshman, but Holtz brought in a graduate transfer in 2014 (Cody Sokol) and 2015 (Jeff Driskel) to be the starter. This offseason Holtz turned over the offense to Higgins.

Skip Holtz
Skip HoltzWesley Hitt/Getty Images

"My relationship with the one-year guys, as the season went on we had to build that relationship and grow on the move with it—midseason-type stuff—but with Ryan, I've been around him the past four years and that was nothing we had to work on," Taylor said. "That brotherhood and that connection was already there. That was a step ahead for us."

Higgins has found a way to get Taylor the ball despite the fact that he's seeing double and triple coverages. That's where his height becomes an advantage. It's difficult for opponents to get their hands on Taylor, and his quickness allows him to sneak free of multiple defenders.

"It's like chasing a cat," Dawson said.

"He's much shiftier because he's got a lower center of gravity, and he's quick as he can be," Holtz said. "He's not going to run a 4.3. He's not the guy that is just going to run by, but trying to stop him on a mid- or out-breaking route is very difficult to do.

"I'm sure a lot of people who are recruiting by height, weight and speed, he doesn't fit the bill. If you recruit the intangibles, he's pretty special."

The proof has been in the numbers and one spectacular catch after another. The one that sticks out in Holtz's mind is a grab Taylor made at Mississippi State last season. The ball was floating toward the sideline, and Taylor had to leap to catch it.

"And while he's flying out of bounds, he's got the wherewithal to put his elbow on the ground first, because that's the only thing he could get inbounds," Holtz said.

The acrobatic catches have led to a regular occurrence during postgame handshakes. Opposing coaches will approach Holtz and want to talk about the amazing catch Taylor had that day. 

If only they could have seen what he did in practice...

"The special ones make you walk off the field every day and say, 'Did you see that catch? Did you see that move? Did you see that route?'" Holtz said. "That's what the special ones make you do every day when you walk off the practice field—not just the game field but the practice field.

"It's like he woke up this morning just to come to practice. This is what I've been waiting for all day is to play football."

                 

C.J. Moore covers college basketball and football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.