HAZELTON • For his first season playing 8-man football, Ben Taylor sure took to the modified game quickly.
In his first season as the Vikings’ starting quarterback, the junior led the way in making Valley’s moved down to 1A-Division 1 a successful switch. A season after finishing 2-6, the Vikings went 10-2, making it to the state title game.
For his role in that turnaround season, Taylor is the 2014 Times-News 8-man Football Player of the Year.
“Ben’s like having another coach on the field,” Valley coach Brian Ayers said. “He has a great grasp of the offense. When he’s out there, he’s not only in the play that’s going on, he’s working his mind to get set up for the next one coming up to.”
For the year, Taylor finished with 3,174 yards passing and 45 touchdowns.
Taylor started formally playing football in fifth grade, the first year he could after years of recess ball with friends, and quickly found a home on offense at quarterback, though always in the 11-man game.
Ayers said Taylor was slated to start at quarterback no matter what this season, but either way, the wide open realities of 8-man football were a fast fit for Taylor.
“There’s more space for our wide receivers to get open, more route combinations we can run to screw up the defense,” Taylor said. “It’s a lot easier to put the ball where it needs to be.”
Taylor attributed much of his success this season to his coaches who had his study the game of a certain quarterback a few hundred miles away.
“This year, I learned to be like Peyton Manning, like his feet,” Taylor said. “He’s always moving his feet, not stationary. He’s always chopping his feet.”
It was not the only bit of study that Taylor — or the rest of his teammates, for that matter — had this season. With the switch to 8-man came a whole new playbook to learn.
“When we set out to get into the 8-man season, we’re thinking, ‘Alright, we’ve got this much stuff to put in and we’re only expecting to get in a miniscule amount for the season,’” Ayers said. “But shoot, these guys picked it up so fast that we got really deep into the system, far deeper than we ever expected to.”
The best may be yet to come. Taylor returns next season along with all but three of his teammates, a scary thought for opponents across the state.