As postseason destinations go, the Washington Huskies seemingly lucked out by receiving an invitation to the Cactus Bowl against Oklahoma State.
The game isn’t played until Jan. 2, which gives Huskies players a rare opportunity to go home for Christmas. And it’s played in Tempe, Arizona, a warm, metropolitan location preferable to most anywhere else this time of year.
It also means another trip home for Kendyl Taylor, the Huskies’ third-year sophomore receiver who grew up in nearby Chandler and starred at Hamilton High School. UW’s roster lists two other players from the Phoenix area: redshirt freshman receiver Taelon Parson (Gilbert), and junior long snapper Ryan Masel (Phoenix).
“It’s pretty much just like my backyard,” said Taylor, whose older brother Kerry played receiver at Arizona State (the bowl game will be played at Sun Devil Stadium). “My brother played there quite a few years. So I’m just looking forward to going back home and seeing family and friends.”
Taylor said his family made the 90-minute drive from Chandler to Tucson when the Huskies visited the University of Arizona in November, but “this one’s so much closer that more people will be coming. I’m just looking forward to it.”
Also, he’s looking forward to a chance to end a somewhat disappointing season on a positive note. By Taylor’s own admission, 2014 didn’t include the kind of production he wanted after he redshirted during the 2013 season under former coach Steve Sarkisian — a decision that did not thrill him.
“Everyone’s either the guy or the star player on their (high school) team, so to come here and play my freshman year and sit my sophomore year really didn’t make much sense,” he said. “But I just dealt with it.”
He returned to the field this season and caught 17 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns in limited playing time. There were bright spots, like his contested touchdown catch in traffic against Colorado and an impressive one-handed catch for a 28-yard gain at Arizona.
But he would have liked to make more of those plays.
“I expected a lot more,” he said this week. “But sometimes your situation just doesn’t work out the way you want it to. I had an injury (broken finger) and kept playing through that and everything. I’m just trying to prove myself whenever I get the ball, and make a play.”
He earned some attention following the UW’s “Husky Combine” in May, posting a team-best 40½-inch vertical jump and a 4.47-second 40-yard dash time. Taylor’s times in the agility and cone drills ranked best and second-best on the team, respectively.
He’s always tested well, so he expected a strong showing. But he was coming off a pulled hamstring at the time, “so I didn’t expect to do that well. It even surprised me a little bit.”
“He did a good job on that,” said receivers coach Brent Pease, who at first envisioned Taylor as an inside receiver but said Friday that he thinks his intelligence will allow him to play outside, too. “He’s got to just continue to have good work ethic through everything. That shows you he’s a very talented kid in speed and burst, and the other measurables.”
For Taylor to evolve into a more frequent playmaker, Pease said, “really, I’ve got to probably play him more, so he can adjust to everything. … He has ability, and we’ll get him out there to where he’s playing, particularly on the outside position, because him and Jaydon (Mickens) kind of complement each other on the inside.”
Taylor said he isn’t sure he has a specific role within UW’s offense. He simply wants to continue showcasing the speed and athletic ability that turned heads on his testing day — and, on Jan. 2, do it in front of a crowd that will include several friends and family members.
“I just do what they ask me to do,” he said. “I just try to get the job done, and whatever I can do for the team, do it.”