Nikiski's Taylor picks up new sports with ease

Posted: Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Nikiski soccer coach Jim Coburn still remembers the first time he taught senior Jeremiah Taylor how to drive a shot into the net.

It was during Taylor's junior year the first year of high school soccer for Taylor.

Coburn calmly relayed the instructions to Taylor. Put your knee over the ball. Strike the ball. Flex your ankle.

The coach admits he didn't even think Taylor was listening to him. It wouldn't be the first time a player thought he could figure out shooting on his own.

After Taylor's first shot went awry, Coburn asked Taylor what went wrong.

"Well, I didn't flex my ankle," Taylor said.

He would go on to use that shot to score six goals in his first season of high school soccer, which is one short of the record for goals in a season at Nikiski.

"Right at the beginning, it was obvious he picks up things pretty fast," Coburn said. "He pushes himself to be better, whether it's basketball, football or soccer."

Taylor's coaches in those three sports all marvel at the athleticism in his 6-foot-1 body, but all point out what makes him such a great athlete is the ability to listen to his coaches and use his athleticism for the good of the team.

While football and soccer are sports Taylor picked up late in his high school career, the senior has been playing basketball since elementary school.

"Basketball always came first in sports," Taylor said. "It always seemed to come easy to me."

After seeing some varsity action his freshman year, Taylor played a significant role his sophomore season, when his team won the District 3/3A title and advanced to state.

That year, the Bulldogs were led by David Holloway. Taylor learned a lot from watching him play.

"I tried to pick up a little of his game and put it into mine without him knowing about it," Taylor said.

Nikiski basketball coach Reid Kornstad said watching Holloway prepared Taylor for his leadership role on this year's squad.

Taylor averaged 24.5 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game and over six steals per game as he was named the most valuable player in District 3/3A. He leaves Nikiski with school records in steals for a game, season and career.

"He'd force turnovers on the ball like no other high school player I've played with or coached," Kornstad said.

The coach also said Taylor stood out from others because of his ability to score from all over the floor.

"The big improvement I saw in Jeremiah was his shooting percentage from junior to senior year," Kornstad said. "Even from the beginning of his senior year to the end, he was improving.

"Improvement during the season is something I rarely see in high school players."

While those offensive and defensive attributes are special, Kornstad said it is not individual skills that make Taylor great.

"He has a lot of God-given athletic ability, but the thing that makes him special is not God-given athletic ability," Kornstad said. "He's willing to allow his God-given abilities to raise the levels of his teammates.

"That's what makes him special."

Unfortunately, the Bulldogs had to find out just how much Taylor meant to the team. In the last weekend of the season, a awkward sliding twist in a game against Anchorage Christian Schools cracked the end of the tibia on Taylor's left leg.

Taylor missed the district tournament. The Bulldogs got by Houston in the first round with an overtime victory, but finished the tournament with a pair of losses.

"It's unrealistic to say that losing Jeremiah Taylor doesn't affect our team, but I appreciate the attitude and effort of the boys," Kornstad said. "They stepped up and remained confident."

While Taylor's gaudy numbers in basketball denote athleticism, Taylor's accomplishments in soccer and football show how easily he can pick up a high school sport and excel at it.

Before nearly breaking the Nikiski scoring record last season, Taylor had played soccer for just one year in elementary school.

While Taylor's quick progression in the sport surprised many, it did not take Taylor's mother, Camille, by surprise.

"Anything he's wanted to do, he's always been able to do it," Camille said. "The first time we took him (downhill) skiing, he just took off.

"Whenever coaches tell him something, he does it. He doesn't have to be told two or three times."

Nikiski football coach Ned Clooten also got a close look at Taylor's athleticism and coachability this season.

Taylor did not play football in his first three years at Nikiski. This year, star running back Billy Anderson said he would go out for basketball if Taylor went out for football. Taylor knew the basketball team could use some more players, so he agreed.

The sudden impact Taylor had stunned Clooten. In Nikiski's second game of the season against Eielson, he scored all three of the Bulldogs' touchdowns in a loss.

"I had played football at home with my brothers, so it was mostly learning what to do and where to stand," Taylor said.

He would go on to catch 20 passes for 320 yards during the regular season for Nikiski. Taylor also played in the defensive secondary, returned kicks and served as the field-goal kicker. With 11 touchdowns and 15 extra points, he led the Kenai Peninsula in scoring.

"His ability to catch the ball and adjust to passes is something you really can't coach," Clooten said. "For him to have that natural talent is pretty remarkable in my mind."

Taylor also holds his own in the classroom at Nikiski. He carries a 3.23 grade-point average and is trying to earn his honors diploma.

He would like to attend college next year and play basketball while pursuing a career in sports medicine.

Before doing that, Taylor would like to recover from his injury and get out to the soccer pitch for as many of his team's games as possible.

While many soccer players are cursing fields covered with snow, Taylor and his mending leg find themselves in an entirely different position.

"I'm praying for more snow," he said.

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