Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Collins Hill soccer goalkeeper Jackson Taylor (1) hopes to help guide the Eagles back to the state finals. Collins Hill has reached the state championship game every year Taylor has been in high school, including winning the title in 2010 and 2012.
THE TAYLOR FILE
Who: Jackson Taylor
School: Collins Hill
Favorite athlete: Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar
Favorite TV show: "Duck Dynasty"
Dream job: I want to wear a suit, play golf and make business deals
-- Made a pair of penalty kick stops as a freshman in state championship game
-- Older brother Tray was on 2008 state runner-up team
-- Maintains 3.69 GPA and scored 28 on ACT
-- Will attend Georgia Southern
-- Region 7-AAAAA goalkeeper of the year last season
A big smile comes over Jackson Taylor's face when he recalls the state championship game his freshman year at Collins Hill.
"Oh man, what don't I remember? It was a great night," Taylor said. "The 45-minute lightning delay, overtime, got a goal that wasn't a goal called offsides, saving those PKs, celebrating with my team. It was great, it was a great night. I'll never forget it."
As a wide-eyed freshman four years ago, Taylor was beyond his years in goal. He made two crucial stops on penalty kicks to lift Collins Hill to the state championship that year. Now a senior, Taylor has been the backbone of the Eagles' impressive run in boys soccer. The program has been to the state finals the last three years and has won a pair of state championships.
"That, as a freshman, getting that experience early makes you a better goalkeeper as you get older," first-year Collins Hill coach Michael Burrell said.
Burrell was well aware of Taylor's talents before taking the Collins Hill job. As the former Dacula head coach, Burrell's team faced Collins Hill three times -- all losses, including an 8-0 shutout in the 2011 playoffs, thanks to Taylor.
"His work rate (makes him good)," Burrell said. "His practice, he's 100 percent. He practices like he plays and a lot of guys don't do that. He always wants to get better. He's always working."
Taylor's rise to prominence as a freshman wouldn't have happened if it weren't for some injuries. In the season opener, the starting goalkeeper shattered his ankle and Taylor was injured as well when he entered the game.
It wasn't until midway through the season that Taylor was healthy again. Collins Hill was down 1-0 to Norcross at halftime when Taylor entered the game. He forced the game to overtime and stopped a pair of penalty kicks to lift the Eagles to the win. It was the start of a special career. In his four years at Collins Hill, Taylor recalls winning eight out of nine games that went to penalty kicks. Not only did he have a big stop in the state finals as a freshman, but he also made the key save in PKs against Mill Creek for the region title a year ago.
"I hope the job gets done before it gets to me, but you have to have that mentality -- it's you or a goal," Taylor said.
Since Taylor took over as the starting goalkeeper that Norcross game, Collins Hill has a 50-7 record, has reached the state finals three times and won two state championships. One of the few losses was to Walton in the 2011 finals, which is the same team that defeated Taylor's older brother Tray in the 2008 championship game.
"He's a phenomenal goalkeeper," Burrell said. "He's got all the intangibles to get the job done."
The 5-foot-8 Taylor was invited to play for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy this season, which prepares high school players for college soccer and beyond. Taylor, who is headed to Georgia Southern and will not play soccer, turned down the opportunity to give someone else a chance.
"Right there, that says he's committed to the program that he's helped build," Burrell said.
Collins Hill has reached the state finals the last five years, winning championships three of the last four years. The bar has been set pretty high for the Eagles, but success is the only thing Taylor and the rest of program expect.
"With Collins Hill soccer, they expect us to be there," Taylor said. "We all want to. It's definitely a disappointment if you don't. I think we'll be successful this year."