CINCINNATI — Even when he was running rampant on the football field at Lynwood High School four years ago, Reggie Taylor was often overlooked.
Despite missing three games with a bruised thigh his senior year, he rushed for 1,287 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Still, the college recruiters virtually ignored him.
Taylor attributes that to his size. In a sport dominated by Nautilus-enhanced behemoths, the 5-foot-7, 170-pound Taylor just doesn't stand out.
"I never got a whole lot of publicity because of my size," Taylor said. "And I guess being this size denied me some opportunities."
Only Hawaii and the University of Cincinnati were interested enough to offer him a scholarship.
Taylor said he chose Cincinnati because it would be a change from Southern California, the only environment he knew, and more importantly, Cincinnati played one of the nation's toughest schedules, meeting opponents such as Auburn, Alabama and Miami of Florida.
"I knew that because of my size, if I wanted to prove myself I'd have to play the best," he said.
In his three seasons at Cincinnati, Taylor has shown that someone short by football standards can stand out against the premier teams.
He has gained 2,917 yards on 620 attempts, breaking the Bearcat career mark for carries and leaving him just 82 yards shy of breaking the rushing record.
Taylor, a two-time honorable mention All-American selection by the Associated Press, is only the second Bearcat to have consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, 1,805 as a sophomore and 1,112 last year.
Dangerous as Receiver
And he is just as dangerous circling out of the backfield for a pass. He finished second on the team in receptions each of the last two years with 36 catches for 203 yards in 1984 and 23 for 168 in 1985.
"Reggie's about one-third of our offense," said Bearcat Coach Dave Currey, who guided Cal State Long Beach from 1977-83 before coming to Cincinnati. "We call him the biggest small back in America."
Currey smiles when he remembers a kick return that he said epitomizes Taylor's ability to make the big play.
In the 1984 season finale against arch-rival Miami of Ohio, the Bearcats were trailing 31-19 when Taylor received a free kick following a safety and burst past the Miami defenders for a 73-yard touchdown.
Not to Be Denied
"On that play, he just wasn't going to be denied," Currey said. "He's the guy when you need one yard or 100 yards."
But Taylor's first day in a Bearcat jersey certainly wasn't an omen of things to come. He was the smallest player and his new teammates wasted no time in calling that fact to his attention.
He said he can't remember those short jokes now, but the fact that his teammates were the source of the heckling was so unexpected that the memory of the abuse lingers. "My high school teammates never really kidded me about my size," Taylor said. "I grew up with most of them and they were accustomed to me. And more importantly, they knew what I could do."
The Cincinnati players and coaches soon found out what the "mighty-mite," as Taylor became known, could do.
In his sophomore year, he gained 100 yards five times, including a 145 against defending national champion Miami of Florida and 117 against Alabama.
"Reggie's a little back that plays big and that's what makes him a spectacular player," Currey said. "Fans love him because he's little and opponents can't find him or catch him."
Still, national attention was slow to catch up to him.
"I'm called a scatback, not a running back or even tailback," a disgruntled Taylor said. "But I'm doing the same thing a 6-2 back is doing. I just can't find the correlation."
He said he takes solace knowing that Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears worked for nearly a decade before he received the publicity and the accolades his accomplishments merited.
"You deserve the hype, but I'm so used to not getting it that I just go out and do the best I can and let that speak for itself," Taylor said. "It's hard to deny someone when the numbers are right there in front of you.
"It gets frustrating sometimes, but sooner or later someone's going to notice."