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Success Taylor-made after Toby's hard work

ASHLAND-- He arrived at Southern Oregon University three years ago as an 18-year-old freshman who could go deep or catch the football in a crowd.

Toby Taylor was Bambi in football gear.

But Taylor, a former Eagle Point High wide receiver, admits he had a lot to learn to be ready for the physical and mental challenges of playing college football.

I'm smarter and I run better routes than I used to, says Taylor, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound junior, who has put on nearly 30 pounds since high school. Most of the added bulk is muscle he gained in the weight room.

I've matured and gotten stronger, says Taylor. I feel the more time you spend in the weight room, the better the athlete you become.

Taylor, 21, leads the Raiders in receiving with 20 catches for 259 yards and four touchdowns. He had two of those touchdown catches in SOU's last game two weeks ago against Simon Fraser.

In that game, he also had a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

I learned a lot here from Mike Long and Ryan Morgan (former SOU receivers) about running routes, says Taylor. They were great receivers. They taught me ways to beat certain defensive backs, depending on how they play and how they line up.

SOU coach Jeff Olson says Taylor's development as a receiver has been satisfying.

He's a hard worker who rarely says anything in practice, says Olson. He never complains, and he works as hard all the time. With that attitude, you have to be pleased when he makes big plays like he does.

I can't say I'm surprised with the way Toby has played, but I'm happy.

The Raiders are 5-1 and ranked 11th in the country.

This team has the best attitude of any team I've played for here at Southern Oregon, says Taylor. It reminds me of my senior year in high school (when Eagle Point finished second in the state in 1995) when we were all friends and we all played the game hard for each other.

There's no finger-pointing on this team. Guys do their jobs and nobody complains. We're a close-knit group, and that helps us play harder.

The Raiders will have to play hard Saturday night, when they visit defending NAIA national champion Azusa Pacific.

Taylor's receiving complements the power running of All-American senior tailback Griff Yates, who has rushed for 993 yards on 165 carries and scored 13 touchdowns.

Yates, who suffered a dislocated wrist in the Simon Fraser game, is expected to play against Azusa Pacific.

I'm glad Griff will be back to play in this game, says Taylor. It makes a big difference in our team's outlook to have him. He's a leader on this team. Everybody respects him because of his attitude, which is to win and go out and play hard football.

Taylor says the Raiders' final three games -- they host Humboldt State and visit Western Oregon -- represent the toughest part of their schedule.

All three games will be tough to win, says Taylor. We'll have to take them one at a time and stay focused in each. We can definitely win them all, and that should get us in the (national) playoffs.

Once we get into the playoffs, we will take it one game at a time. I think we're better than the No. 11 team in the nation.

MT file photo Toby Taylor (18) shines for Raiders.