In just a season, Taylor Morin has gone from role player to leader
by Jim McGrath, recruitNoVA
For a high school junior, Westfield’s Taylor Morin finds himself in a unique position. He plays for the Bulldogs, a team that has won the past two 6A state championships. He wasn’t on the team as a freshman, but did start at safety last year and contributed mightily, especially in the championship game against Oscar Smith, when he had several tackles and a pair of crucial pass breakups.
Many of the key players from last year’s team are gone. Quarterback Rehman Johnson, and his 35 TD passes in 2016, has moved on. So have star receivers Sean Eckert and Ivory Frimpong. Gritty linebacker Kevin Petrillo has moved on, as well as Parade All-American kicker Brian Delaney, who is now playing at the University of Virginia.
Yet, the cupboard is not empty at Westfield, and Morin is optimistic about the Dogs ability to reach the state final again as his team enters this week’s contest against Stonewall Jackson with a 2-0 record.
“We have a lot of work to do,’ said Morin, who has now been repositioned at cornerback. “Our plan is to execute, do what we do best and get better each week.”
Westfield defensive coordinator John Shields is quick to remind his unit that they cannot rest on their laurels. “Coach tells us that 2016 was a whole different team,” said Morin. “He says that we have to make our own mark.”
Yet Morin is certain they will. “We have the staff and the guys to get back there.”
The numbers largely back him up so far. The Bulldogs opened the season with a resounding 28-10 win over Lake Braddock. The Bruins have remained winless since then, but at the time, beating an 11-2 squad from last year by 18 points was a big deal.
The Dogs passed an even greater test the following week against the high-octane offense of South County – a unit that features All-Met receiver Dillon Spalding and quarterback Michael Tull, who threw for seven touchdowns in the Stallions opener.
The two teams locked horns and were tied at 21 when regulation ended. It took an overtime period, but Westfield prevailed 28-27.
Morin remains cautious, even after the South County win. “It was a big win for us and got us motivated. But we could have done better in a lot of areas.”
He speaks from experience. At 5-10 and 165 pounds, Morin is not only a shutdown corner for Coach Kyle Simmons, but also the team’s leading receiver, with eight catches, one for a touchdown, in the first two contests.
So when the question is asked as to whether Westfield can avoid the kind of mid-season slump which left them 4-2 last season, he can answer from both sides of the ball.
It starts with the offense. Taking Johnson’s place is Noah Kim, a solid quarterback, but also a sophomore who saw little action as Johnson’s freshman backup last year. Working with Barry Thompson in the off season at the Fairfax Football Academy has helped Kim develop into a stronger thrower. Genetics helped him grow two inches, and Kim now stands at 6-2. Morin has great things to say about his quarterback.
“I’m impressed with his ability, and the way he commands the huddle,” adds Morin. “He’s going to be good for us now, and in the future.”
Through two games, Kim has been conservative with his number of throws, but has completed just over 50 percent of his passes with a couple of touchdowns. By contrast, Johnson entered the seventh game of 2016 with a 44.5 percent completion rate; however, his completion numbers jumped to over 65 percent for the final nine games, a period in which he also threw 25 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
But Kim has also developed into a running threat, and one that has broken off two long scoring runs this year. Keeping the defense honest is senior running back Eugene Asante. At 6-1 and 198 pounds, Asante is a righteous force behind center. He ran for 139 yards and two touchdowns against Lake Braddock, taking some of the pressure of Kim. “We have confidence in him and the things he can do,” said Morin. “Because of him, defenses have to stack the box because he’s tough to bring down. He helps us open up things on the outside.”
Of the passing game, Morin said, “We have kinks to work out, but we have a belief in Coach (Mike) Lalli (former Chantilly coach who is now the Bulldog QB coach). “Fortunately, we have vets like Eugene, Harmon and Nolan (Cockrill). Cockrill, at 6-3, 230, is a presence at both tight end and defensive end for Westfield.
Defensively, Eckert and Frimpong left their mark on Morin, even though they have graduated. “I picked up a few things from covering those guys in practice (last year).”
The lessons will need to stick. The Bulldogs face Madison, Centreville and West Potomac in a four-week span to begin October. “We’re excited to play those teams,” added Morin. “We’ve got to get better (from these games) to get ready for the playoffs.”
Morin’s recruiting card is also beginning to fill up. To date, he has received correspondence from two Ivy League schools, not surprising as he sports a straight-A (4.1) average with hopes of majoring in engineering or business at the next level. But for now, he simply looks forward to the task at hand.
“Our guys can do a lot. We’re going to figure out our personnel, see what works, and get a good feel, so that we can click as a whole team. The coaches put together a good game plan.”
– Jim McGrath