Former Evangel, Tech star one step from Super Bowl redemption

By ROY LANG III, Journal Sports

Trent Taylor and George Kittle were joined at the hip as San Francisco 49ers teammates. The duo came into the NFL together (both drafted in the fifth round, 2017) and spent the first four years of their careers by the Bay.

Friday, Taylor, now a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, and Kittle – one of the best tight ends in the league – fantasized about a possible reunion during a phone conversation two days before their respective conference championship games.

“It would be hilarious — obviously big games for both of us before we get there as both of our teams are considered the underdogs,” Taylor, an Evangel and Louisiana Tech product, told the Journal. “A lot of trash talk would be had for that Super Bowl. It would be amazing.”

Kittle’s 49ers do battle against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC game, but the continuation of Taylor’s inspirational comeback comes first when the Bengals attempt to knock off the reigning AFC champion in Kansas City.

Two years ago, Kittle and Taylor were in Miami together. Kittle suited up in Super Bowl LIV against the Chiefs, but Taylor was trapped on the sideline in a walking boot, the result of a doctor’s screw up.

Taylor’s NFL debut season (2017) included 43 catches, 27 for first downs (best for rookies), but the bitter disappointment in South Florida capped a two-year run of pain and anguish.

A back surgery hampered 2018, and in 2019, an injury that was to cost Taylor a few weeks turned into a nightmare. Five surgeries and a major infection later, Taylor missed the entire campaign.

His chance at redemption could come in a couple of weeks.

“(Watching the Super Bowl from the sideline) can motivate you, but as one player, I can work harder than anyone else in the league but still maybe never see another shot at the Super Bowl again,” Taylor said. “There’s so many things that have to fall into place in order for your team to make it back to that stage. So, I was mainly disappointed in the fact that it was because of a doctor’s mistake on my foot that I wasn’t able to perform on the biggest stage ever.”

Taylor is no stranger to beating long odds. Despite “a million” catches at Evangel, his lone offer came from Ruston. The near outcast subsequently led the country in receiving yards as a senior.

“The one offer was all I needed,” said Taylor, who has “built” his “body back” in an attempt to be a game-changer once again.

“I feel back to normal, but right now it’s all about gaining that trust back with coaches and proving to everyone all over again that I belong in this league and can compete and run routes with the best of them,” Taylor said. “It’s something that takes a lot of work to get back so I’m enjoying that process right now.”

Taylor, born in Cookeville, Tennessee, returned punts for the Bengals in front of friends and family in last week’s victory in Nashville. However, Louisiana remains “No. 1” and Taylor senses and embraces the Louisiana effect in Cincinnati.

From LSU’s Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase and fellow Shreveport star Brandon Wilson (on injured reserve), Cincinnati has become a different sort of “Bayou Bengals.”

“There’s at least five more guys on the team that are LSU guys or from Louisiana,” Taylor said. “We are flooded with Louisiana guys so I would expect most of Louisiana to have our back for this AFC championship game.”

As Taylor boarded the team charter to Kansas City on Saturday, he explained how following Kobe Bryant’s mantra led him within 60 minutes of the sport’s grandest stage.

“After being down for two years with back surgery and my foot disaster, recovering from that and having the Mamba mentality has to be a way of life,” he said. “My work has gotten me another chance in Cincinnati. Now that I have my opportunity, what am I going to do with it? It’s small daily steps in the right direction that are going to get me back to how I know I can perform.”

Photo courtesy @Trent5Taylor