EAST ST. LOUIS — East St. Louis senior Greg Taylor rushed for nearly 1,800 yards and 19 touchdowns as a running back during the 2013 season, helping the Flyers reach the Class 6A state semifinals.
But as a future member of the University of Missouri football team, Taylor will be making tackles instead of avoiding them.
"I'll be strictly a defensive back,'' Taylor said on Thursday. "I could probably play running back, but I like hitting people more.
"I'm anxious to get up there and start the next part of my life as a Missouri Tiger.''
Taylor, who also did start as a defensive back for the Flyers, where he was one of two DBs in the state with 94 tackles during the 2013 season, made his commitment to the Missouri program official Thursday, as he joined teammates Kyron Watson, Luther Wright and Trevon Prater in signing national letters of intent in the new library at East St. Louis High School.
Several family members, East St. Louis staff and administration and classmates were on hand to witness as Taylor, Wright (Southeast Missouri State), Prater (Syracuse) and Watson (Kansas) all moved a step closer toward fulfilling their dreams of playing college football.
East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett said all four players have worked hard to put themselves into position to be college athletes.
"I'm very proud of all four of these for young men. From the time they stepped into East St. Louis High School, they really committed themselves to this program,'' Sunkett said. "I think that stems a lot from having great parents. They were raised well and were taught respect and hard work.
"Now they are being rewarded for that hard work by having the opportunity to do something they love -- play football and, most importantly, get a great education.''
Taylor joins one of the top programs in the nation at Missouri. The Tigers finished the 2013 season 12-2, ranked in the top 10 and captured the Cotton Bowl with a 41-31 win over Oklahoma State.
Taylor had other offers, but was sold on the close-knit family atmosphere of the Tigers.
"Mizzou is a great football program and is something that I want to be a part of,'' Taylor said. "When I went up there, they welcomed me with open arms like they really wanted me to be part of their team and their school.''
Watson (6-foot, 2-inches, 220 pounds) also was recruited by Missouri as well as Illinois and Texas Christian, but opted to play in the Big 12 Conference as a member of the Kansas Jayhawks.
An all-state linebacker, Watson's numbers were staggering last season. The Flyers leader on defense, he finished with 165 tackles -- 110 of them solos. Watson also had four sacks and three interceptions.
Coached by former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, the Jayhawks finished just 3-9 during the 2013 season.
But Watson liked what he saw and heard while at Kansas.
"It's a great school and the coaches are trying to build something special there. I want to be part of that,'' Watson said. "They have a lot of starters coming back on both sides of the football, but I think I'll have an opportunity to play. I just need to be ready.
"But if I have to wait and learn. That's what I'll do.''
Watson will be a joining a Jayhawks roster that also features former Flyers teammate Anthony Pierson, who will be a senior running back at Kansas during the 2014 season.
Wright (6-4, 290) has been a mainstay at offensive guard for the Flyers for the past two years and could make an immediate impact at SEMO.
"I'll have a chance to play right away. I just need to go in, work hard and show the coaches what I can do,'' Wright said. "I had a couple of other offers, but I liked the coaches at SEMO and the fact that they will work with me in my classes with tutors and study groups.
"It's also about two hours from home and that's not bad.''
Prater, who originally committed to attend Western Michigan, still will be wearing orange for the next four years as a member of the Syracuse Orange.
"Why did I change my mind? Well, I went up to the school and just fell in love with the place,'' Prater said. "They recruited me as an athlete. I just want to play. Wherever they need me to help us win football games is where I'll play.''
Like Taylor, the 6-1, 190-pound Prater shined on both sides of the football.
The Flyers' second-leading receiver, Prater caught 22 passes for 309 yards and four touchdowns. As a defensive back, Prater had 79 tackles and a team-leading seven interceptions.
Sunkett added that Flyers quarterback Dominic Nelson is still weighing his options.
"Right now he's looking at his options. We'll probably know in a couple of weeks,'' Sunkett said. "Dominic wants to play quarterback in college. He's looking maybe at being a preferred walk-on at SIU-Carbondale.''
Nelson threw for over 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns during the 2013 season.