The Sun Devils’ 2010 season was a study in inconsistency.
The roller-coaster ride included near-upsets of Oregon, Stanford and Wisconsin; issues with penalties and turnovers; and an embarrassing loss to Cal before ending with an epic double-overtime victory over the Arizona Wildcats in the Territorial Cup.
Despite the maddening ebb and flow, there was one consistently positive force for the Sun Devils—wide receiver Kerry Taylor.
After being caught up in ASU’s offensive struggles over the past three seasons, he burst onto the scene as a senior, becoming the go-to target and leading the team with 54 receptions for 699 yards and a trio of touchdowns.
Taylor attributes his success to two factors: “A lot of hard work and trying to take my game to a higher level. I spent a lot of time watching film of NFL players and their techniques and used that in my own game. Also, having a coach like (offensive coordinator) Noel Mazzone who actually wanted to get me the ball helped out a lot.”
It wasn’t always so great for Taylor and the ASU offense in recent seasons. He places much of the responsibility for ASU’s three-season bowl drought on the offense.
“The first two bowl-less seasons had a lot to do with what we were trying to do offensively," Taylor says. "A lot of players just didn’t believe in the offensive schemes, and once the players don’t believe in the plan, then it’s all downhill from there. It was a nightmare to not be able to move the ball and have our defense score more points than our offense.”
He credits the turnaround to the infusion of energy in Mazzone’s scheme: “This past season under Mazzone the players really bought into the system and believed in it. Mazzone’s high-energy approach really brought life back to the offense.”
Despite that culture change, the Devils fell just short in their bid for a bowl, something Taylor—the offense’s lone starting senior—believes was a product of the unit’s youth.
“We lost a lot of close games and just had some breaks that didn’t go our way," he says. "I feel like we should have definitely been in a bowl game. We had a pretty young team last year, and the lack of experience hurt when trying to close out games.”
One game that Taylor and the rest of the team made sure to close out was the instantly classic 30-29 win over the Wildcats, with whom he shares no love.
“We hate those guys,” he says frankly.
After losing the previous two games to Arizona, which he considers a “low point,” he made sure the Wildcats would not get the three-peat over ASU. In what was one of his greatest collegiate memories, he also had one of his best performances, leading the team with six catches for 112 yards.
“The Arizona game was the most exciting game I have ever been a part of," Taylor says. "The intensity of the game was electrifying. It was one of those games that you didn’t care how you won, you just wanted to win. And for me to have one of my best performances in my final college game against our rival school was unbelievable. After blocking the second extra point and running onto the field to celebrate is one of my greatest football memories.”
Emerging from that historic win, the youth of the Devils has gained experience. Will they be able to compete in the new Pac-12 South? Taylor is confident that they will: “This upcoming season ASU has about 30 seniors and 18 returning starters that will have such a huge impact. I see them doing some real big things this year and really competing for a Pac-12 championship.”
He also thinks Sun Devil faithful should keep an eye on senior wide receiver Mike Willie.
“The guy is a beast out on the field," says Taylor. "He made so many clutch plays for ASU last season. He is a guy who always works 100 percent and loves to get better. He is a complete wide receiver. He can run, catch, block and is probably the most physical receiver I have seen at ASU in my time there.”
With his ASU career now behind him, Taylor now sets his sights on a longtime dream—playing in the NFL.
“I always thought I could be a wide receiver in the NFL," he says. "Ever since I was a little kid, that has always been my goal and plan. I have never doubted myself. I knew if I worked as hard as I possibly could that one day I would make it.”
To prepare, he’s been working harder than ever in advance of ASU’s pro day, which takes place on Friday, March 25th.
“I have been training hard doing two-a-day workouts for about three months straight," Taylor says. "They have me in the best shape of my life. I am stronger and faster than I have ever been. I feel like I am so prepared for pro day on Friday.”
He says that he admires the styles of Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Chad Ochocinco and Reggie Wayne and has been studying their game film.
The differing styles of those players reflect the versatility of Taylor’s game. He has the sure hands to run short to intermediate routes like Driver and Wayne, yet can run the deep patterns that Jennings and Ochocinco have made careers out of.
Even with considerable physical talents, it may be the intangibles that ultimately elevate Taylor’s stock. He describes himself as “a player who is determined to work as hard as I can and always give 100 percent and a player who loves the game of football. I am a leader who likes to challenge players to always get better. I am all about competition and competing with the best.”
At this point, Taylor is confident that he holds the future in his hands: “If I meet all my goals on pro day, then the draft will take care of itself. I have heard a lot from the NFL scouts and know I can answer all their questions with a great workout on pro day.”
After the draft, he plans to continue honing his craft and working out. That confidence that helped give a pulse to the ASU program will now serve him as he sets his sights on the next level.
“I will do whatever it takes to make an NFL roster,” Taylor says.
After what he did for the Sun Devils, it’s hard to bet against him.
For the full interview transcript, click here.
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