By Trevor Wenners
Athletic Communications Assistant
MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – During Nate Taylor's initial visit to Wesleyan University, he realized that the institution could offer him the complete package.
He was seeking an opportunity to become part of a great football program in 2014, which was a reality with then-head coach and current Director of Athletics Mike Whalen '83 powering the Cardinals to plus-.500 seasons in 2012 and 2013.
Taylor, who was a Dean's List-caliber student at Avon Old Farms prior to moving to Middletown, Conn., was also looking for an opportunity to be a complete student-athlete, and Wesleyan's commitment to academics is second to none with academic achievements permeating through the walls of the institution.
"My recruiting visit solidified my decision to commit to Wesleyan," Taylor said. "The people I met on my visit were extremely warm, welcoming and transparent. I appreciate that I can actually be both a student and an athlete, meaning that opportunities to participate in certain groups or activities are not limited because of my commitment to football. Thus, I was able to have a complete college experience."
The senior earned the role of captain this fall, and has been a huge component behind the Cardinals compiling an 18-7 record, dating back to 2014.
The Cardinals opened 2017 with a 30-27 setback at Middlebury on Saturday, Sept. 16, but the highly-skilled defensive back has high expectations this fall, including winning the NESCAC Championship, encouraging leadership from all classes, maximizing the potential of every player and making the All-NESCAC First Team.
"It is an honor to be chosen as a captain by my teammates and coaching staff," Taylor said. "As a captain, I want to be my best self and continue to improve myself as a person. It means more to me than leading a team to a victory. I am leading a group of young men, who look to each other for support and guidance."
Wesleyan will compete in its home opener on Saturday, welcoming Tufts to Corwin Stadium for a 6 p.m. matchup. Last season, the teams' engaged in a thrilling battle, with the Jumbos prevailing 17-14 in Medford, Mass.
"The competition level within the NESCAC is high," Taylor said. "I look forward to playing every team because there is always a challenge or a lesson to be learned. Our players are intelligent and play to win both in practice and during a game. These aspects are crucial to a successful program."
Under third-year head coach Dan DiCenzo, Wesleyan takes a great deal of pride in bringing a tenacious mindset on the defensive end, highlighted by the fact that the Cardinals allowed the fewest amount of points (105) within the NESCAC in 2016. Fans should expect more of the same, as the Cardinals progress through their nine-game schedule.
"As a defense, we plan to be relentless and to place the ball back in our offense's hand as often as possible," Taylor said.
It is easy to think of Taylor now in terms of his outstanding football career, but there was a time when he was an unknown in the college ranks. In 2014, as a rookie he did not see any game action, but through his own dedication, motivation and tireless work ethic, he improved his craft through practice and game-day observation. The Cardinals went 7-1 that season, finishing in the No. 2 slot in the conference standings, with the lone loss being a narrow 33-30 overtime setback against visiting Amherst.
Learning from the upperclassmen is vital, especially in college football, as Taylor learned what it meant to be a Cardinal. He started focusing on mastering the little components of the game, which make the difference in the end.
Taylor identifies Jake Bussani '15, a former captain, cornerback and assistant coach at Wesleyan, as the biggest influence during his time as a Cardinal, mainly because of his attention to detail.
"He was a true student to the game," Taylor recalls. "I believe that he was one of the greatest corners to come through Wesleyan, not strictly because of his athleticism, but because of his understanding of the game overall."
The Brooklyn, N.Y. native internalized all the lessons, and started to make a significant impact on the gridiron in 2015, compiling a career-high 20 tackles in five games, with the Cardinals finishing with a plus-.500 record (5-3) for the fourth consecutive season. Taylor compiled a career-high nine tackles during a 24-16 triumph over Bates.
Taylor continued his evolution as a player in between his sophomore and junior campaigns, adding credence to that notion by compiling 19 tackles and a career-best three interceptions in eight games during the 2016 year. The Cardinals boasted a 6-2 mark, finishing in a tie for third within the conference ranks. Taylor recorded four tackles, to go along with a 51-yard interception return, during a 39-10 blowout of Bowdoin.
As he climbed the ranks as a player, Taylor's desire to improve never wavered, with his humbleness and dedication being off the charts. He acknowledged the importance of three more individuals in his journey, featuring his father, a former college football play, Whalen, who Taylor played for as a rookie, and DiCenzo.
"Whalen and DiCenzo helped me limit the amount of excuses that I make for myself and the situation that I am currently in," Taylor recalled. "They taught me to focus mainly on what I can control. If I change myself for the better; I can change my situation. I learned that if myself or a group of people are passionate about something, sacrifices need to be made in order to achieve the goals and objectives that we set for ourselves."
After Taylor turns his tassel at graduation this spring, he is focused on getting involved in public speaking, professional development and communications training. The psychology major's commitment within the confines of the classroom will help him make an immediate impact in his post-graduation journey.
"Student-athletes come to Wesleyan to win and to receive an exceptional education," he said.
Taylor certainly has taken advantage of both during his time as a Cardinal.
Book: How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
Movie: The Little Vampire
Professor: Professor Carney
Pro Athlete: Chad Johnson
Started Playing Football: 9 years old
Best Kept Secret: It would not be the best kept secret now would it.