Tenacious Taylor elevates Salt Fork's defense

Tenacious Taylor elevates Salt Fork's defense

CATLIN — Payton Taylor posted quite the sophomore campaign for Salt Fork football coach Brian Plotner's crew.

Though the Storm was ousted in the Class 1A postseason's first round last year, Taylor led The News-Gazette area in tackles with 135 — outpacing his closest competitor by eight stops.

"I wasn't really paying attention to any of that until the playoffs started," the linebacker said. "I was surprised."

Was that sentiment shared by Ryan Taylor, Payton's father and the Salt Fork linebackers coach?

"I had high expectations, but at the same time, with him being a sophomore, I knew he had a lot to learn yet," Ryan said. "I guess, yeah, I was a little bit shocked at how well he took to it."

Now, Payton's high bar from 2017 will need to become the norm as the Storm opens a new season Friday at Oblong.

"This year, our main mindset for this team is defense," Payton said. "We've got to have good defense to win games this year."

There's plenty of promise in that regard. Payton is joined by seniors Max Branigin (76 tackles last season) and Dylan Washkowiak (73 tackles) among the unit tasked with halting the Storm's foes.

For Payton, there's even more motivation than earning a third straight playoff berth.

He comes from a football family. That includes cousins Cole and Connor, who both shined for the Storm.

"It's definitely one of my top favorite sports," said Payton, who also suits up in basketball, baseball and track for the Storm. "I just love to be out there with the team."

Additional influence came from Ryan and his brothers, all gridiron guys theymselves.

"Since he was about 6 years old, he's been with me coaching and watching Salt Fork," Ryan said. "We watched a lot of football together ... and every commercial break, we would play catch and be diving into the couches and stuff like that."

Payton credits his dad for teaching him the proper tackling technique, and he looks to NFL Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher as a source of inspiration for how to further excel at linebacker.

Even so, there's still room for improvement.

"We're doing a lot more defensive drills and more conditioning," Payton said. "One of my favorites is the pursuit drill — pursuing angles and running routes."

Payton, who also takes some carries at fullback, is interested in continuing football at the college level. To reach that stage, he's more than happy to continue learning from Dad.

"He's definitely harder on me than anyone else," Payton said. "I respect it, and I try to get better."

Ryan admits he does have big goals for his son, saying "I hope he can go beyond what he did last year ... and maybe exceed what he did last year."

But Ryan also is thrilled with the work ethic and drive Payton has displayed — with two more football seasons to go, no less.

"He's a kid that doesn't like to sit still. He likes to be doing something all the time," Ryan said. "Something we tried to instill in him is it's always to lead by example first and foremost, and I'm hoping he continues to do that."


SALT FORK'S 2018 Schedule


Aug. 24 at Oblong/Hutsonsville/Palestine 7 p.m.

Aug. 31 vs. Watseka 7 p.m.

Sept. 7 at Georgetown-Ridge Farm 7 p.m.

Sept. 14 at Westville 7 p.m.

Sept. 21 vs. Tri-County 7 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Paxton-Buckley-Loda 7 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Hoopeston Area/Schlarman/A-P 7 p.m.

Oct. 12 vs. Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Oakwood 7 p.m.