By Pat Harty
Iowa City, Iowa – With a senior class that includes dynamic stars such as Josey Jewell and Akrum Wadley, strong safety Miles Taylor is easy to overlook.
Taylor might not even start against Purdue on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium if sophomore Amani Hooker is healthy enough to play.
This week’s depth chart has the word or written in bold next to Taylor’s name. It basically means that Taylor will start on Saturday if Hooker can’t play.
But if Hooker is cleared to play, Taylor likely would be relegated to the bench, while also contributing on special teams.
It hardly is what Taylor envisioned for his senior season after being a two-year starter for the Hawkeyes. But the true mark of a person’s character is how he or she handles adversity and disappointment.
And that’s where the 5-foot-10, 203-pound Taylor has shined.
Instead of feeling sorry for himself and becoming a distraction, the Silver Spring, Md., native has accepted his demotion and tried to make the best of it.
That might not seem like a big deal when you have stars like Jewell and Wadley on the verge of wrapping up their much-publicized careers.
But to Taylor's teammates, it is a big deal because it only takes one disgruntled and selfish player to ruin a locker room.
“That’s huge,’ said Iowa senior linebacker Ben Niemann, who is one of Taylor’s closest friends on the team. “He has continued to just bring it every day in practice and help lead our team and embraced his role.”
Taylor started the first six games at strong safety before losing his position to Hooker. Taylor then moved back into the starting lineup for the Wisconsin game and was arguably one of Iowa’s best players on defense, finishing with seven tackles and one pass break up.
“His number got called last week and he stepped up to the plate and did well,” Niemann said. “So good for him.”
Taylor was more critical of his performance against Wisconsin.
“I didn’t think I played that well,” Taylor said. “It’s just next man in. I needed to do what I could do to help the team. Unfortunately, we didn't get the win."
It’s easy to talk the talk in Taylor’s situation, but his actions speaker louder than words. Taylor obviously hated losing his starting position, especially as a senior, but he refused to let it bring him or the team down, and that says a lot about Taylor’s maturity.
Friends for life
Taylor and Niemann were among just three true freshmen who played for Iowa in 2014. They were roommates for road games as true freshmen and that’s where they started to form a bond that will last forever.
“Miles is definitely one of my best friends on the team here,” Niemann said. “We’ve lived together, and freshman year we really ended up getting close because we were the only two freshmen that traveled.
“We kind of just grew a bond and we’re tight. He’s definitely a friend that I’m going to have after football.”
Their friendship is now sort of a family affair, considering Taylor and Niemann both have a younger brother on the team who also are close friends.
Linebackers Kyle Taylor and Nick Niemann were part of Iowa’s 2016 recruiting class and now are redshirt freshmen waiting for their chance to play.
“It kind of worked out well that Nick and Kyle came in together and they got to room together freshman year,” Ben Niemann said.
The bond between Miles Taylor and Ben Niemann is one of the neatest things about playing college sports.
It is easy to see what they don’t have in common. Taylor is black and grew up on the East Coast near Washington D.C., while Niemann is white and from the Midwest.
Niemann is the son of a college football coach and he lived in the northern Illinois town of Sycamore during high school while his father, Jay Niemann, coached at Northern Illinois.
Ben Niemann was previously committed to Northern Illinois before switching to the Hawkeyes. His father has since moved on to Rutgers where he is the defensive coordinator.
A native of Avoca, Jay Niemann played linebacker for Iowa State from 1979-82 and has spent much of his coaching career in his home state, with stops at Simpson College, Northern Iowa and Drake.
So Ben moved around a lot as a kid, but never strayed too far from the Midwest.
Miles Taylor also was committed to another school before switching to Iowa. Taylor committed to Georgia Tech on March 12, 2013, but he stayed in contact with the Iowa coaches and eventually switched his commitment.
That decision would change the course of Taylor’s life on and off the field.
Taylor was good enough to see action in all 13 games as a true freshman in 2014. He also started all 14 games at strong safety in 2015 when Iowa finished 12-2 and 10 games last season.
Combine that with his seven starts this season and Taylor has 31 starts under his belt. Not many Iowa defensive backs can make that claim.
But it also is unusual to lose a starting position as a senior.
Unlike Jewell and Wadley, who play linebacker and running back, respectively, Taylor never achieved stardom at Iowa.
But when Taylor’s name gets called on Saturday as part of Senior Day and he is greeted by his family at midfield, Iowa fans owe him a rousing ovation for representing the senior class, and the program as a whole, with grace and dignity.
Taylor came here from halfway across the country as a naive teenager with dreams and goals that didn’t all come true.
And now he will leave as a young man who is much admired by his teammates and coaches for how he conducts himself.
That is more than enough to call Miles Taylor a success story, and I’m sure his teammates, especially Ben Niemann, would agree.