November 14, 2017 11:22:34 PM
STARKVILLE -- Taylor Arnold doesn't have a signature pose -- yet.
What the Starkville Academy junior does have is a sign with 10 lights that says, "Taylor Arnold for Heisman." Made by Starkville Academy eighth-grade wide receiver Cole Gonzales, the sign comes with a handle that any convention delegate would admire and an on/off switch in case you're attending a night game where your favorite running back is playing.
Gonzales and the rest of the fans in the Starkville Academy student section had plenty of reason to show off that sign Friday night in the second-seeded Starkville Academy football team's 31-0 victory against third-seeded Adams County Christian Academy in the semifinals of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA playoffs at J.E. Logan Field.
Arnold had 14 carries for 111 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown run that helped push Starkville Academy (12-1) to a date against top-seeded Indianola Academy (13-0) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday for the Class AAA State title at Jackson Academy.
After a year away from the team, Arnold has been a driving force in the backfield as well as in the secondary. But Arnold has remained humble through the success and the acquisition of an additional moniker -- "Gatorade Player of the Year" -- from his teammates three of four weeks ago, according to Starkville Academy football coach Chase Nicholson.
"He just runs hard," Nicholson said. "I think his real strength is he has really great vision. He sees creases where other people might not see a crease and he will get those 3 yards you ask him for."
Nicholson said Arnold is strong for someone who is 5-foot-10, 160 pounds. He also said Arnold is fast -- maybe not breakaway speed fast, but quick enough to break away. Coupled with an offensive line that has made it a habit to open up holes, Arnold has shown he can get the job done.
"He is a very patient runner," Nicholson said. "The offensive line knows all they have to do is do their best and he will find something in there, no matter how big or small it is. He just complements the mentality of everybody so well."
Starkville Academy quarterback/defensive lineman Noah Methvin has seen Arnold up close, so he has an even better description of his teammate.
"He just refuses to be tackled," Methvin said. "He refuses to lose. He follows his blockers really well. He sat out last year and he said that is one of the biggest mistakes he has made. He is making it all worth it now."
Arnold admits he missed playing football last year. He said he thought it wasn't for him at the time, but he soon realized he should have played. Arnold can understand why people feel he might be "running angry at himself" for not playing football last season.
"I have used that as motivation," Arnold said. "I was really upset with myself after the first game just watching them in the stands. I wished I should have played, but I didn't. I am just using that now."
Nicholson admits he sensed Arnold missed not being on the team. In fact, he said he saw Arnold throwing a football on the field last season in Greenwood prior to the team's game against Pillow Academy. He said Arnold returned to the fold prior to the 2017 season humble and ready to contribute.
Arnold has fit right in with his teammates because the other 39 Volunteers embrace that mentality. Arnold is just one who gets a few more opportunities to tote the rock and reap the benefits of a stout offensive line and a group of wide receivers that often takes pride in blocking more than catching passes.
"He just takes every opportunity he gets and does his absolute best," Nicholson said. "That is not necessarily making up for lost time, that is Taylor Arnold. I have known that since the first time I saw him. That is just his personality. He is going to give you everything he has got. If he can't go, he will let you know he can't go. He isn't going to do anything to hurt the team. If he running for anything, if I was to speculate, I would think he is running for those other 39 guys around him because he knows he is a part of it."
Arnold leads the Volunteers with 172 carries for 1,277 yards. He is second to Methvin (13 touchdowns) with 10 rushing touchdowns.
Arnold also has made an impact on defense with 70 tackles (42 solo), three tackles for loss, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles.
It's no wonder then that you're more apt to hear Arnold get called "Gatorade Player of the Year" in school or in Nicholson's office than to see someone politicking for his Heisman campaign. After all, the Volunteers likely wouldn't be allowed to parade through the halls of the school with a Heisman poster or sign, even if they turned the lights off.
Arnold smiles each time he hears one of his teammates refer to him as "Gatorade Player of the Year." He knows he doesn't have the size of Mississippi State junior running back Aeris Williams, but he has a similar attacking mind-set that allows him to run like a bigger back, which explains his success.
"It is just the want to," said Arnold, who has the Heisman sign in his room at home. "You have to want it more than the person in front of you. If you want it more, you're going to get it."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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