SENECA – Bo Taylor did not resemble a future Morris Daily Herald Player of the Year for the first several years he played football.
Between his freshman and sophomore years at Seneca, Taylor said, he made a leap from average youth player to productive varsity underclassman. He made another leap between his junior and senior seasons, accounting for 722 total yards in 2012 and 2,403 as he garnered All-State recognition in 2013.
Now Taylor is aiming to make a third leap – from core player on a Class 3A quarterfinalist in high school to productive player in college.
The fact Taylor would play football at all seemed doubtful when he was an infant. A condition caused inequality in the strength of his eyes and left him legally blind.
At the age of 2, Taylor underwent surgery that largely corrected the problem, though he continued to wear glasses until eighth grade. He said his vision was never a serious issue for him once he started playing football for the Ottawa Eagles. What was an issue was a lack of ability. He remembers scoring only one touchdown as a youth player.
“I wasn’t developed at all. I was really weak, and I was really slow. I mean, it was bad,” Taylor said. “From my standards, I wasn’t too good of a football player until I started getting better sophomore year.”
The improvement was not random. Upon entering high school, Taylor started training at Don Beebe’s House of Speed under the supervision of Kevin Platt. He has continued to train there, almost daily, every summer since.
One game into Taylor’s sophomore season, the results of countless hours of speed training and weightlighting began to show.
“First varsity game, against Coal City, I think I caught two touchdown passes,” Taylor said. “I realized this is what happens when you start to work hard. It pretty much just elevated from there.”
The Seneca offense – and Taylor’s role in it – changed dramatically in 2013.
In coach Ted O’Boyle’s first season in 2012, the Fighting Irish ran a pro-style offense, using Taylor at running back. He led the team in rushing, garnering 554 yards on 101 carries, and added 168 receiving yards. Of Seneca’s 2,502 yards of offense, a little under 29 percent went through Taylor.
“When you have big, mauling linemen, [a pro-style offense] works well,” Taylor said. “There’s guys that can go in and just smash in that pro-style offense, and I think we have the linemen to do it. I’m just, I’m not – I mean I can try to be that runner, but I don’t it’s as effective as getting me out into space.”
Quarterback Peyton Schrag graduated after passing for 920 yards in 2012. With no obvious replacement waiting in the wings, O’Boyle came up with an unconventional idea. Taylor, who had never played quarterback in his life, was moved to the position. O’Boyle said the results were so ugly early in the summer that he almost went in another direction.
Seneca’s 2013 opener against Sandwich initially furthered O’Boyle’s doubts, but it later provided a glimpse at what could be.
“The first time we ran read-option with Bo and Tommy [Lovett] in that first game, we fumbled, they recovered and I was ready to scrap it then and there,” O’Boyle said. “Both guys came to the sidelines and were pleading their case, telling me we’d be OK. The very next time we called it, he went  yards for a touchdown.”
Taylor accepting the snap out of the shotgun and either handing off to Lovett or faking a handoff and running himself became the signature of the Seneca offense. It was not all the Irish did – Taylor attempted 74 passes, completing 29, and the Irish also used junior Zach Russell directly under center at times – but the alignment produced many of their 3,984 yards.
“I think the change in offense was a big factor,” Taylor said. “It was more deceptive and it let me pretty much just go out and play.”
Beebe is the head coach at Aurora Christian, which ended Seneca’s season, and Taylor’s career, in the Class 3A quarterfinals. The former wide receiver, who played college football at Chadron State before beginning a nine-year NFL career, thinks Taylor’s playing career should not be over entirely.
“I told Bo at the end, I said, ‘Hey, look. You’re a college football player, man. There’s somewhere for you out there. Go find it, because I know you’re that kind of player,’” Beebe said following Aurora Christian’s 36-27 defeat of the Irish.
Taylor has yet to find “it.” His college search continues, and while he said “one or two” Division I schools have contacted him, most of the interest he has drawn has come from the NAIA level.
“A big school that I fit into would be awesome. I mean, who doesn’t wanna go play DI?,” Taylor said. “I mean, NAIA, Division III – I really don’t care how big it is. As long as I can fit in there and hopefully earn my way, a chance to play, that’d be nice, too, but it’s all about where I fit in at.”