DECATUR — MacArthur linebacker and running back Derrick Taylor knew his senior year was going to be special and the people around him took notice.
"He really pushed himself this year," said Derrick's mother, Tonya Davis. "He has always been dedicated to his sport, but his senior year he said, ‘This is my year,’ and he went out there and pushed it."
His play earned the attention of Robert Morris University in Chicago and on Wednesday in front of friends and family, Taylor committed to play football with the Eagles.
"It’s a blessing" Taylor said. "A lot of kids from Decatur, they are not able to play at the next level. Me doing this lets kids know they can do anything that they put their minds to.
"I would like to thank God for giving me this opportunity and my family for being my biggest supporters."
While Taylor was already one of the hardest-hitting members of the Generals' defense heading into the season, MacArthur football coach Derek Spates could see his future as the Generals' featured runner was becoming undeniable.
"It was exceptional to see his improvement this year," Spates said. "I thought early on in the season we would use him as an H-back out of the backfield — sneak him out there — but watching him in practice and in games, I knew we had to put the ball in his hands more. He’s a dynamic ball carrier."
Taylor ran for 862 yard and 16 touchdowns on offense and had 63 solo tackles and 22 assisted on defense as the Generals (7-4) returned to the playoffs for the second straight season.
Taylor has played baseball, football and ran track in his four years at MacArthur. This winter he is also an athletic trainer for the basketball team, which is an interest he hopes to continue at Robert Morris.
"I’m going to study graphic design and minor in sports medicine," he said. "I like to learn new things about the human body and how injuries happen."
Robert Morris also made Taylor and his family feel like family on their visits.
"We just liked the school all around as far as both academics and athletics," Davis said. "I am very proud today. Derrick is an all-around good kid. He’s smart, he’s intelligent, straight-A student. He’s the big brother of the house. That’s my baby."
Taylor has two big football inspirations that shaped his life — his grandfather, Milton Joyner and Spates.
"My grandpa, he’s the reason why I play football and he’s the reason why I wear No. 33, too," Taylor said. "That was his number when he played at Eisenhower. He always tell me he wants me to break his rushing totals.
"Honestly, Coach Spates got me here today. Without him being on me at every practice and every game, and without his determination, I don’t think I would be where I am."
The respect runs both ways from Spates, who will miss Taylor's intense play next season.
"I’m going to miss the passion he brings to the team and his fiery intensity and just his overall impact on the team," Spates said. "You don’t get guys like him every year and he has been great for us. He fought through the adversity of those 1-8 seasons, and fought back to make the playoffs in back-to-back years."
The Eagles will use Taylor's defensive skills at a new position next season.
"They want me to play at safety because they liked the way I came down and pursued the ball and they know that I am fast," Taylor said. "My junior year I played a down safety and I know how to cover, but it will be a challenge because I will be going against bigger and better people. But at the same time, I think I will do well at that position."
Spates said Taylor's success is an important example for other MacArthur students hoping to reach that next level.
"To me Derrick is the epitome of a student athlete and the offer from Robert Morris is pretty incredible to be able to go to a school of that magnitude. It’s a special thing," Spates said. "It’s huge because ultimately football only lasts for so long but an education lasts you a lifetime. For him to go to Robert Morris will help set him up for life and allow him to provide for his family for the future. That’s what it is all about, helping these guys become great young men."