Stepfan Taylor is the walking embodiment of football coach David Shaw’s motto: “Believe in the process.” He earns his touches by perfecting the details and soon he’ll leave Stanford as the most decorated running back in school history.
When Taylor steps off the field at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Tuesday, he’ll wrap up his college career as Stanford’s all-time leading rusher. If he can punch the ball into the end zone against Wisconsin, he’ll also break his tie with Toby Gerhart and become the Cardinal’s career touchdown king.
But Taylor never set out to break records, he just committed himself to getting better.
“When you look at Stepf, he gets it,” running game coordinator Mike Bloomgren said. “He believes. He’s as hard on himself as anyone’s ever been in this program and he’s always trying to get better.”
Taylor inherited his workhorse attitude from his mother, Skyla, who raised him as a single parent in Mansfield, Texas. But he didn’t learn the full meaning of the word patience until he joined the football program at Stanford.
“Being a high recruit, you come into college thinking you can go and just start playing,” Taylor said. “So you’ve just got to go out and show you’re capable of having the coaches trust you. And that’s just a process — a step at a time, day by day, getting better.”
As a freshman in 2009, Taylor was in line behind Gerhart and, one year later, he started the season as part of a committee of running backs that included Jeremy Stewart, Tyler Gaffney and Usua Amanam. But he emerged as the front-runner by the fifth game of the season and went on to pick up 1,137 yards on the ground, his first of three straight 1,000-yard campaigns (also a school record).
It wasn’t just Taylor’s rushing instincts that stood out. He was also the team’s best route runner, ball faker and pass blocker.
“That’s the way to get on the field,” Taylor said. “If you’ve got Toby Gerhart, you know he’s going to get all the carries. So, I had to prove to the coaches that I’m willing to pass block and just try to expand my game.”
Bloomgren said Taylor’s commitment to mastering his off-ball skills is what sets him apart.
“I can’t tell you how many guys we’ve all been around in the NFL or other places where they were great runners when they had the ball in their hands,” he said. “But playing without the ball is a really unique skill, especially for a college football player. And man, he is outstanding at everything he does.”
Pass blocking epitomizes Taylor’s commitment to the process because it requires a complete understanding of the playbook, on-the-fly thinking and a willingness to be physical.
“Time after time, somehow, he hits them under the chin and they stop,” Bloomgren said.
The records, the yards, the touchdowns prove that Taylor’s approach is working. But right now, he’s focused on the only reward that matters — winning the Rose Bowl.
“This is a goal that we’ve been wanting to get since I’ve been here,” Taylor said. “Now that we’re finally here, we’ve got to take advantage of it.”
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