Brett Taylor is all about the Western Illinois Leathernecks. A hometown guy from Macomb, Illinois, everything he does in the offseason and during the season is to help his team win games. Along the way, though, he’s had quite a bit of individual success and has become one of the most dominant middle linebackers in the FCS.
The senior has done his part, not only this season in helping WIU return to the playoffs after narrowly missing out last season, but in being a big part of the ascension of the program.
The Leathernecks were 4-8 and 5-7 in his first two seasons. As a sophomore in 2015, Taylor exploded onto the scene and led the team with 144 total tackles, 94 solo, as WIU finished 7-6 with a playoff win. Last season, his team missed the playoffs by one game, but Taylor had another standout season, finishing third in the FCS with 134 total tackles and adding another 94 solos.
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WIU is having its best season in recent memory this year at 8-3 and a dominating FBS win. Once again, Taylor is manning the defense, leading the country with 150 total tackles. His stats from two years ago even were a tall order to top, but he’s done so with his best season yet.
“You just can never stop working and never be satisfied,” Taylor told HERO Sports. “We have coaches and players that have the same motto. If someone is slacking in the weight room, you’re just always pushing each other. It’s just the way my teammates have been able to hold me accountable and I'm holding them accountable. It’s having that mindset of each day is a new day to get better.”
Taylor has no doubt gotten better and better each season. He finished seventh last season in the Buck Buchanan Award voting for the best defensive player in the FCS. He’s a finalist this year too and likely a frontrunner after being named the Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
But again, Taylor is all about the team. And any individual honors he gets is because of his teammates.
“It’s definitely a great award to win,” Taylor said on the Buck Buchanan Award. “It’s an individual award, but I think it’s a team award too. My defensive line loves that I get all the tackles. They do a great job of taking up blocks for me. It would really be an award for them and for the defensive unit. My teammates trust me and set me up for success and I trust them as well.”
For those counting, Taylor has totaled 457 career tackles. That currently puts him in ninth place all-time in the FCS charts since 2000. Of course, none of that matters to Taylor. It’s all about making a deep push into the playoffs.
It starts this Saturday with a trip Weber State. A win there sends WIU back to Big Sky Conference territory for a game against No. 8 seed Southern Utah. Another win, then it’s on to the quarterfinals at No. 1 James Madison. The odds seem stacked against the Leathernecks. But they have been road warriors all season, playing seven of their 11 regular season games on the road and winning six of them.
“We like playing on the road,” Taylor said. “It eliminates distractions and we can just focus on football. It’s just us and one common goal to win. It’s just football 24/7.”
Football 24/7 is exactly how Taylor likes it. Born and raised in Macomb, he hopes to have several more weeks of playing football in his hometown. When his college career does wrap up, though, football won’t be over. NFLDraftScout ranks the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder as the 27th best inside linebacker prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft.
And as you have probably guessed by now, that’s the furthest thing from his mind at the moment.
“I’ve dreamed about the NFL since I was a little kid,” Taylor said. “But I just block it out right now and trying to go 1-0 every week in the playoffs and making a deep run. I take it one step at a time. I don’t overthink things and just have a goal in mind for each day. If you achieve that goal every day and keep getting better, all your goals fall into place.”