Eric Taylor just waited for the right time to make his season debut, and showed his impact ability almost instantly.
Returning from a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined until Friday, the Oakland senior standout helped get the Patriots rolling in their 53-18 victory at Blackman.
Taylor started at running back and scored a 41-yard touchdown on the game’s second play, giving Oakland a lead it never relinquished. He finished with 81 yards on five carries.
“It felt amazing,” Taylor said. “I was hoping to get back on the field being out the first half of my senior year. I was very anxious to get on the field again.”
Taylor was expected to contribute in the backfield entering the season despite having only three carries last year. However, he was able to learn behind Jordan James and Antonio Patterson in 2021.
He knew his time was coming, though.
“I was just being patient, just being a team leader,” Taylor said. “Even when I was hurt, I was being a leader on and off the field. I’d just stay positive and took my time (preparing to return).”
His return deepens an already productive backfield with CJ Puckett, Tamari Hill, Marcus Bell, Khalil James and quarterback Kade Hewitt. Patriot runners piled up 381 yards on the ground on 50 attempts in the victory, churning out 7.6 yards per carry.
“We have a lot of running backs,” Taylor said. “Tamari Hill’s one of the fastest players in the county. CJ Puckett is a power back, Mason Hill, Khalil James, we have a lot of backs out there. If I’m not in, somebody else can do it.”
Taylor’s return also helps the defense, which got after Blackman passers to the tune of 12 quarterback hurries and four sacks, and finished with nine tackles for a loss. Taylor registered seven total tackles, four of those solo stops.
“Yeah, I thought our defensive line was up for the challenge,” Creasy said. “You know, we have a new D-line coach. He’s the former defensive coordinator at Tennessee State University. And Coach (Justin) Roberts has really gotten after those guys. He was a little disappointed in their performance against Ravenwood, and he started to mix and match and rotate guys and he’s done a heck of a job of coaching them up, so I thought they made a huge difference in a nice way.”
Defensively, Taylor was the team’s second leading tackler last season with 132 total tackles and six sacks, so his production was missed on that side of the ball to begin the year.
“Eric Taylor is so happy to be back and we’re happy that he is back,” Oakland head coach Kevin Creasy said. “That guy loves football and we’re so happy that he makes our team better.”