LINCOLN — It's fourth-and-one at midfield in the fourth quarter of the Texas 5A Division II state title game. Adam Taylor's team is behind 24-21, and Taylor is getting the ball. There is no deception or surprise coming. Just suspense. Just years and years of training and pain and pressure to reach this carry in this game. He grew up in a football-mad town of Katy — the “Neiman Marcus of football centers,” as Taylor's mom, Fedora, calls it — deep in the heart of a football-mad state. That's why more than 40,000 fans are in Cowboys Stadium watching Katy's offense line up against Cedar Hill's defense for the decisive play. Full house backfield. Toss pitch right. Fullback and guard to lead. “Everybody's eyes are always on you,” Taylor says later, explaining why he likes the running back position. “You're the focal point. They want to stop you, and you gotta make something happen.”
Fourth and one. Taylor catches the toss. He gets a perfect cut block from his fullback. He'll have the first down.
“Hold on to the ball,” Taylor thinks to himself, “and put this game away.”
He does, chugging 56 yards to the end zone. Afterward, the opposing coach will compare him to a Nebraska I-back from the 1980s.
Two months earlier, it's an autumn night in Los Angeles and Terrell Newby might as well be water vapor on a football field. He can't be caught. The Chaminade Prep running back, who wears No. 34 in honor of Walter Payton, has put on impressive displays before, but never 16 carries for 360 yards and eight touchdowns.
The opponent, Harvard-Westlake, is decent. But its defenders can't grab him. Chaminade's playcalls are simple — inside zone with a cutback read — and Newby makes those calls sing. On one run, longer than 75 yards, he squeezes into a hole, plants hard with one foot, makes a cut at his own 30 and hits the night sky. At the 50-yard line, he's running even with four defenders. By the time he reaches the end zone, the closest of those four is 11 yards away.
“I just felt like every time I touched the ball, I was taking it to the house,” Newby said. His speed didn't hurt. Chaminade coach Ed Croson said he's been clocked at 10.8 seconds in the 100 meters, while Newby said his fastest time is 10.68 seconds. He bolts away from every defender. If you don't catch him early, you won't catch him late.
Croson had never seen anything like it. He'd never heard an opposing coach tell the story of chewing out one of his guys trying to tackle Newby, only to hear the player reply: “Coach, he was there, and then he was gone. What could I do?”
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Newby and the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Taylor both started playing football more than a decade ago. As high school sophomores, both outplayed the starting seniors. Both had more than 300 carries this year. Both hated coming out of games unless their presence would further embarrass the opponent. Both ran for more than 2,000 yards this season.
Both are four-star recruits, both had college coaches wooing them all fall, and both are taking some local heat for their college decision. Both said no to the SEC. Both also said no to their home states, warm weather, and the fast track to a starting job.
Both picked Nebraska. Both say they're ready to compete — and share carries.
“In this type of offense, we can,” said Newby, who won offensive MVP honors at the International Bowl on Tuesday with 88 yards rushing, 24 yards receiving and a touchdown. “It's going to be awesome. We can make each other better.”
Said Taylor: “We should make for a great team. It's competition. Fine with me.”
They'll likely have slightly different roles in offensive coordinator Tim Beck's attack.
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Taylor, an I-back for Katy — which finished 16-0 and No. 2 nationally according to USA Today — is a physical, one-cut-and-go runner. His 2,753 yards and 44 touchdowns involved a lot of contact and broken tackles.
“He ain't no waterbug,” Katy coach Gary Joseph said. “He's not the jump-cut kind. He's downhill ... the more he carries the ball, the more effective he is. He wears on people. Kind of like the like the old Nebraska running backs.”
Newby is new school. Chaminade ran out of the shotgun plenty, utilizing Newby — who ran for 2,305 yards and 45 touchdowns, turning down offers from Cal, Oregon, UCLA and a late, insistent charge by Bret Bielema at Arkansas — in much the same way Beck has used Ameer Abdullah and Rex Burkhead in the last two years. Zone read. Shotgun power runs. Wide sweeps. Draw plays.
“And if he gets a step, he's gone,” Croson said.
And yet Croson said there's an underlying toughness to Newby, an edge that belies his size. Spread running backs don't just pick Payton's old number, even if Newby's dad went to college in Chicago. Spread running backs don't necessarily love the inside zone play. But Newby does.
“He's kind of like a Midwestern guy in L.A.,” Croson said. “Everyone out here is me, me, me. Terrell's not going to talk a lot. He's going to get the ball and say 'let's go.'”
Taylor's even more reserved. In Katy's state title win, he ran for 277 yards and five touchdowns, calmly flipping the ball to the referees after most carries. He's reluctant to do interviews and wanted to clear the World-Herald's request with his parents and Husker running backs coach Ron Brown before talking. Over the course of 30 minutes, each answer is prefaced with a “yes sir” or “no sir,” as Taylor tries to deflect praise and steer the talk back to Katy's team.
Part of the wariness comes from his recruiting experience with LSU, where he had once pledged. Taylor fits the Tigers' two-back power offense well, but because he missed most of the 2011 season with an ACL tear — Adam and Fedora both said Adam rehabbed so fast that he was ready to play that year if Katy had advanced further in the playoffs — LSU essentially made the offer conditional. The Tigers' staff wanted to see Adam's first three games, and they told Adam so. Katy is just 300 miles from Baton Rouge, but Adam's interest was gone.
“I felt like they had a lot of doubts about me,” Taylor said. LSU continued to call Taylor long after his commitment to Nebraska, which followed an official visit to Lincoln. Fedora, a former nurse, said NU handled any fears Adam might have about his knee by introducing him to one of the Huskers' orthopedic surgeons. Adam said he liked the intricacy of Nebraska's strength and conditioning program. The cameras on the weights. The attention to detail in recovery areas. Texas and Cal made runs at Taylor, he said, but he'd already been sold on NU.
Nebraska wooed Newby away from UCLA — which arguably signed the best class in the Pac-12 — by getting there early. Croson said Husker wide receivers coach Rich Fisher identified Newby in the spring of 2011 and kept following up for the next year. After Newby ran for more than 2,000 yards as a junior, the Huskers offered in the spring of 2012. And Fisher persuaded Newby not to commit to California before taking a visit to NU.
The Bruins “really put some pressure on” just before Newby's decision in January, Croson said. It would have been the popular pick. UCLA beat the Huskers on the field in 2012 and for several recruits in the 2013 class.
“But I don't think Terrell ever got a good feel for it,” Croson said.
Said Newby: “The hardest decision I ever made in my life was to go away from home. But Nebraska had the best support and the best fans.”
NU also offers opportunity. Though Abdullah returns for his junior year, NU coach Bo Pelini officially announced on Wednesday that Braylon Heard is transferring. That leaves Abdullah and sophomore-to-be Imani Cross as Nebraska's top scholarship running backs.
Newby calls Abdullah “a cool dude,” and lists him as one reason he chose the Huskers. Newby will run track this spring — Chaminade has one of California's best 400-meter relay teams — and try to improve on his times. He said he hopes Chaminade heads to the Drake Relays.
Taylor, consistently modest, said he wants to learn under Abdullah and Cross and see where he fits in.
His training regimen suggests a more ambitious plan. He has two personal trainers, one for strength and one for “velocity” who work with him after school. Most nights, Taylor works from 4 to 8:45 on football.
“Ain't no magic powder; the kid just grew up to be part of the Katy football program.” said Joseph, his prep coach. “You know, he's just one of those kids. The one the other kids look to. He's got one speed, and that's full speed.”
Said Adam's mom, Fedora: “He'll hold his own. Trust me. He'll hold his own.”
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