By MIKEY BARNES
When not in the gym shooting hoops, senior captain Taylor Johnson can be found in Goolrick Hall lifting weights or elsewhere with girlfriend of two years, Claire Haeuptle.
“I really like lifting. I plan to do it a lot more,” said Johnson about his newfound free time now that his final season is over.
You may know Taylor from his great work on the basketball court, whether it be his ability to swish deep three pointers or his huge 1,000 point accomplishment against York in late January, but what many may not know is Johnson is a very humble guy, most concerned with the well-being of his peers and teammates than his own.
“The individual accolades are cool, but I don’t care much for them. It is all about the team,” said Johnson about receiving a number of honors, such as first team all-conference and reaching the 1,000-point mark. With the constant support and mentoring of his parents, Greg and Emily, Taylor was molded into the well-rounded student-athlete he is today.
An Ashburn resident from Broad Run High School, Johnson played three years each of varsity basketball and soccer for the Spartans. After numerous years of competing in both with numerous travel teams and long hours devoted, Johnson made the tough decision to give up soccer his senior year and focus his energy on the true love of his life: basketball.
Starting at the age of four, basketball became a passion for Johnson almost immediately as he continuously shot around the hoop in his front yard. While most kids dreaded practice, Johnson continued up until his final year as a collegiate basketball player to be the first one in and the last one out of the gym. Johnson was fueled by numerous things in the sport of basketball, not just his love for the game but also all the criticism he faced, such as those who expressed he was too small and his guidance counselor who told him he would never play collegiately. The will in Johnson was too strong to fall to what others had to say about him.
A more cliche answer could not have been given when asked why he chose UMW, but it was clearly heartfelt.
“I wanted to play basketball somewhere, and I knew I would get the best education at UMW…I had a great time on the visit, the guys were very welcoming, and they told me what a great coach Coach Wood was,” said Johnson.
Coach Rod Wood played a big role in both Taylor coming to UMW and why he enjoyed his time here so much.
“He was honest with me during my visit. He was and is a big reason why I enjoy basketball so much. He always gave me advice and still does. I speak with Wood every day,” said Johnson.
However, tough times presented itself to both Taylor and Coach Wood. After Taylor’s junior year and the UMW men’s basketball programs best season in school history, Athletic Director Ken Tyler and Wood decided to go in different directions. Wood was promoted to the position of Director of Athletic Facilities and was forced to leave his position as the men’s basketball coach. Along with the departure of Wood was five seniors, all whom accumulated big minutes. With this being the case, it meant a number of new faces were coming to the Anderson Center, including a new coaching staff and nearly a whole new basketball program.
This did not stop Taylor from giving it all he had day in and day out on and off the court, which didn’t go unnoticed by his teammates.
“Taylor is a leader on and off the court by just being himself,” said sophomore teammate Isaac Blue. “Taylor has a personality where he leads by example, so I knew if I wanted to be good I had to watch and learn a lot from him. Taylor doesn’t say a lot, but when he does, we all listen and that’s why he’s a great leader.”
Taylor has faced other tough times throughout his collegiate career that pertain to injury. Around the time after winter break his sophomore year, Taylor began to feel a pain in his right foot. After seeing a surgeon, it was discovered he had a stress fracture in his right foot, something the x-rays did not show. Due to the injury, he was sidelined for two games, but decided to play through it after that because it “wasn’t getting any better.”
When not playing, Taylor decided to wear a boot to help avoid further injury. Toward the end of his sophomore year, Taylor had a stress fracture in his pubic bone, which kept him out all summer and was forced to ease back into things for the following season.
In his junior year, the injury bug struck again for Taylor, as the stress fracture came back during winter break. His doctor told him it was in his best interest to not play and that he could injure himself much further. It was then that Johnson and Wood decided for him to only participate in the game and to sit with his protective boot on during practices. That was something that continued throughout the season, he would only shoot around in practice, not participating in scrimmages. His inspired effort throughout the year earned him the CAC Medal of Inspiration.
Senior year was not the most successful record wise for the Eagles but was successful for Taylor physically, as he was injury-free all year.
Taylor plans to take his leadership abilities with him once he graduates. His basketball days at the competitive level may be over, but Johnson said he is not done with the game he has fallen so in love with.
“When I go home, I plan to coach my brother Drew’s AAU team, the Loudon Basketball Academy alongside my father. I also hope to one day coach my kids, whether it be my sons or daughters,” said Johnson.
For now, until graduation, Taylor will continue to lift weights, shoot hoops and spend more time Claire. The realization has sunk in now, and Johnson said he is ready to hang his up shoes and grab a whistle.