No task too tall for ‘Little Big Man’

By Dave Elsesser

Both fans and opposing defenders know when NIU halfback Rodney Taylor has the ball.

At 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds, the diminutive Taylor often brings a second glance from onlookers.

And he deserves it.

Over the last four seasons the man coaches, teammates and sports information directors alike refer to as the “Little Big Man” has produced nothing but big numbers and big achievements. Whether it’s on a handoff up the middle, a pitchout or a kick return, Taylor does one thing—gain yards.

With three games left this season, the Huskie senior already owns the school record for career punt return yardage (627 yards), ranks second on the list of career kickoff return yardage leaders (912) and ranks fourth on the list of career all-purpose (rushing, receiving, and punt and kickoff returns) yardage leaders (3,574).

But wait, there’s more.

At his current pace, Taylor is within reach of more NIU football milestones.

With 47 rushing yards, Taylor (1,604 career yards rushing) could move into the 10th spot on the school’s all-time rushing list. He could also pass No. 9 rusher Pete Roth (1,795), and needs 94 yards to move into third place on the all-purpose leaders list (Jack Dean, 3,668).

That’s a pretty good resume for a player everyone said was too small to play Division I football. Everyone except Taylor himself and Huskie coach Jerry Pettibone, that is.

“A lot of coaches and recruiters told me they liked what they saw of me on tape, but that I was just too small,” Taylor said. “But Coach Pettibone visited me and said he saw a lot of good things and a lot of heart. That really boosted my confidence up and made me want to come to NIU.”

Once Taylor got to NIU, he didn’t wait to make an impact. As a freshman, he returned a punt a school-record 89 yards for a touchdown against Bowling Green State.

“Coming out of high school, I thought I’d probably have to come here and sit out (redshirt) a year,” said Taylor, who ranked No. 10 last season among NCAA Division I-A punt returners (12.3 avg.). “But when I got here I knew I could play right away.”

Since his first year, Taylor has returned another punt for a touchdown (58 yards vs. Toledo, 1987) and become NIU’s big-play running back.

“The big plays Rodney has made have always come in the biggest games in the most critical situations,” Pettibone said. “He’s one of only four players that have played all the way through without being redshirted or running into some other kind of problem, so he’s a leader. He’s probably been the most consistent player we’ve had here in four years.”

Still, Taylor, who broke all but one of San Francisco 49er halfback Roger Craig’s records at Davenport (Iowa) Central High School, isn’t about to end his list of accomplishments.

“I would like to graduate and then get a shot at the NFL,” said Taylor, who has received encouraging comments from a New York Giant scout. “I’m just hoping one of these scouts will give me a shot. Three years from now, if I’m not in the pros, I want to be able to say that at least I had a chance.”