Stepfan Taylor’s first encounter with a yoga mat was in high school, when he and some friends chose to investigate a class being taught at a local gym.
No sweat, they thought.
“We thought it was going to be easy, and we were dying,” Taylor said via telephone on Tuesday. “All the little girls in there make it look so easy.”
Taylor revisited the exercise this past summer, fulfilling a request from his coaches at Stanford that he become more flexible for his senior season as the Cardinal’s starting running back.
And even if the twice-per-week yoga classes were a little tougher than he’d first anticipated, Taylor is making the whole running the football thing look considerably easier.
Taylor is third in the Pac-12 and 13th in the country in rushing yards per game with 120.9, one of the primary reasons the Cardinal (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) is still among the conference’s elite one year after losing all-everything quarterback Andrew Luck.
WSU linebackers coach Jeff Choate, a former assistant at Boise State, likened Taylor to former BSU running back Doug Martin.
“In my opinion, that’s pretty high praise because Doug was about as good of a kid as I’ve been around as far as running the ball,” Choate said. “(They have) similar type of running styles and lots of those comparisons with great balance and great anticipation and vision.”
With 846 yards rushing this season, Taylor could, conceivably, crack the 1,000-yard mark for the third consecutive season with a strong performance against Washington State on Saturday. He needs 418 more yards this season to break Stanford’s career rushing record.
“He’s the best running back we’re going to go against this year,” said WSU safety Deone Bucannon, and that’s high praise considering the Cougars have already seen Pac-12 leading rusher Kenjon Barner of Oregon, who rushed for 195 yards against them on Sept. 29.
“(Taylor’s) been carrying Stanford,” Bucannon said. “He gets so many carries per game. His balance is incredible.”
That’s where the yoga comes in.
“My main focus was on my flexibility,” Taylor said, asked what he wanted to improve upon most after his 1,330-yard season in 2011. “Because that helps with my speed, my strength, staying up after contact, things like that. That was one thing I wanted to focus on.”
Taylor has become the face of Stanford’s offense in the post-Luck era – and, at his own position, post-Toby Gerhart – helping the Cardinal to continue forging its bash-’em-up identity under second-year coach David Shaw.
The transition from former coach Jim Harbaugh – now coaching the San Francisco 49ers – wasn’t a difficult one, especially for Taylor. Shaw had been Stanford’s offensive coordinator since 2007, and worked closely with Taylor as the team’s running backs coach in 2010.
“The only thing that’s different is how they coach,” Taylor said. “Coach Harbaugh was more intense. Coach Shaw is more calm and collected.”
Taylor, a native of Mansfield, Texas, said he didn’t know much about Stanford before he took a visit there in January of 2009. He mostly discarded mail from Ivy League schools. But when his high school counselor handed him a letter from Stanford, she advised he check it out.
Taylor said he “fell in love” with the school when he visited.
“If football goes wrong, (I like) the way you’re able to just go with life after football and prepare yourself for the future,” Taylor said. “And I looked at the recruiting class. At the time I still didn’t know about Stanford, but I saw good athletes, four or five stars, and I was excited about that. I was ready to compete.”
And not just on the football field, apparently.