OSU safety's even-keeled approach is key to making big plays

Jason Elmquist/Stillwater News Press Oklahoma State safety Jason Taylor II (25) has been called upon early this season to fill the shoes of veteran starter Tre Sterling – who first had to sit out the opening two quarters against Tulsa due to a targeting ejection in the season opener and then went down with a season-ending injury prior to the Boise State game.

Jason Taylor II described his game-saving moment in an understated way.

Taylor, a redshirt junior safety on the Oklahoma State football team, prevented Boise State from upsetting the Cowboys during the past weekend when he blocked Jonah Dalmas’ final field-goal attempt.

It could have been an opportunity for Taylor to bask in the spotlight, but when he faced an audience of reporters three days after the game – with fellow safety and roommate Kolby Harvell-Peel jokingly charading as a stoic bodyguard behind him – he reflected on the clutch play as if it were a routine occurrence.

For a guy who constantly manages to get his hands on the football, it practically was.

“There really wasn’t too much to it,” Taylor said. “Earlier in the game, I saw he kicked it kind of low, so I knew I would have a shot, and, you know, game on the line, just gonna try to go get it.”

Taylor, who recently assumed a starting role to fill in for an injured Tre Sterling, has a knack for creating disruptive scenarios that work in the Cowboys’ favor.

Last season, Kansas State quarterback Will Howard fumbled the ball straight into Taylor’s hands, and Taylor immediately took off for an 85-yard touchdown, a massive contribution to OSU’s 20-18 victory. Two games later, Taylor was in the right spot for another big play as he scooped up an onside kick and carried it to the house during the Cowboys’ 50-44 win against Texas Tech.

Then there was his pick six against Tulsa this season that was called back because of a defensive penalty, but it again highlighted Taylor’s ability to track and control the ball.

Sometimes, it’s as if Taylor has an innate radar that tells him where the football will go, some kind of magnetic force that makes him gravitate toward it. Maybe it’s serendipity, but chalking these moments up to chance wouldn’t allow credit for the keen perception and coordination Taylor has consistently shown.

“He’s got good vision,” coach Mike Gundy said. “He has a pretty good feel for the game. He sees things maybe a count before other people do. Those are things that you can’t coach, just his vision and awareness.”

The trick to Taylor’s wizardry on defense and special teams is not doing too much. He doesn’t use an elaborate method for attempting to forecast the next play, doesn’t rely too heavily on X’s and O’s.

Instead, he reminds himself to keep it simple. It’s the same game he has played since he was a kid in Oklahoma City running around in a backyard, he pointed out. There’s no need to overthink it.

“We’re all out here in the middle of a field and throwing a ball around,” Taylor said. “That’s all it is; that’s all it is. You just play football.”

As a new starter, Taylor said this realistic, even-keeled attitude is more important than ever before. Under the pressure of playing Division I football, it can be easy for guys to get caught up in their own minds and make themselves the toughest opponents to beat, but Taylor realizes how to avoid that.

He has been accustomed to creating game-changing plays for years, so at this point, it’s intuitive for him.

As a junior at Carl Albert High School, Taylor sealed a state championship victory against Bishop McGuinness. The Fighting Irish attempted one final pass into the end zone, but Taylor was there to interrupt the flow, batting the ball away to secure the win for Carl Albert.

It was the first of two state titles in a row for Taylor, who made a name for himself on the preps scene. Now, he reminisces on those high school days with teammates such as Brock Martin, a redshirt senior defensive end from Oologah. Martin said it’s nice to see a fellow Oklahoman make momentous plays for the Cowboys.

“I tell him every time we go out there, like, ‘Hey man, just go get the ball, go get the ball, be a ball hawk,’” Martin said. “Because that’s what he’s good at. He always finds a way to get his hands on the ball.”

Martin said he saw someone on Twitter using a phrase along the lines of “the best backup in the country” to describe Taylor, and Martin shares this belief. There’s a growing level of praise surrounding Taylor, yet he maintains his humble, calm approach through ups and downs on the field.

Even the overturned pick six against Tulsa couldn’t faze him.

“I was like, ‘You know, whatever, just keep rolling,’” Taylor said. “I was a little tired after running, had to jump right back on it and keep playing. But that’s part of the game.”

When he shakes off those letdowns, he can make sure he’s in the right spot for the next big play, setting himself up for the moments that wow his teammates.

As the Cowboys prepare to start Big 12 Conference play with a home game against Kansas State at 6 p.m. Saturday, Taylor isn’t spending much time reflecting on his fumble return touchdown against the Wildcats, but some of his fellow Cowboys won’t forget it.

Josh Sills, a graduate transfer offensive lineman, was on the sideline when he suddenly heard OSU’s fans roaring.

“I remember, I looked up at the board, and I was like, ‘Holy s—t, he’s gonna score,’” Sills said. “So at that point, I didn’t really know what had happened. I just saw him running down the field, and as Brock (Martin) said, there’s nobody gonna catch him from behind.”

When Sills watched the replay, he and his fellow O-linemen joined in on the celebration, realizing what Taylor had done. With those instant, momentum-shifting plays, Taylor can energize his entire team, from the field to the sidelines.

Although Taylor’s automatic tendencies lead to many of these highlights, he also puts in the work to ensure his progress. Taylor said he arrived at OSU with raw talent, but he has picked up on more technique since playing for the Cowboys. He studies film, and he learns about game plans.

But those factors don’t distract him from the purpose of football. He still sees himself as the budding athlete who loved backyard games, and when he retains that mindset, the strategy and pace of play can come naturally.

“Feeling the flow of the game, I feel like that’s football,” Taylor said. “If you play football instead of worrying about the X’s and O’s, just play football, you find the ball.”

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