Big 12 Sports.com Correspondent
These are exciting times for Kurtis Taylor.
He's finishing up his senior season at Iowa State, fulfilling a "prediction" he made during a third-grade assignment.
He'll graduate after the fall semester with a degree in communications/political science.
Befitting his academic pursuits, Taylor has his game face on for the upcoming presidential election.
"This is an exciting time because of the election and the challenges our country faces," said Taylor, a 6-2, 255-pound defensive end. "This is probably the closest-watched presidential election in our history. We've got a woman running for vice-president and an African-American running for president. This is the second time I've had a chance to vote and I'm really interested to see how this election is going to turn out."
Taylor has twice made the Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll. He has been fascinated by the debates in his poli-sci courses. The 23-year-old is convinced that an on-going war, energy issues and an economic down turn are reasons to be optimistic, not pessimisitic.
"Look at this country's history," he said. "The times haven't always been good. There's one thing about the people of this country and that's resilience. This country is built on hard work and by people who refused to take no for an answer. I think this country is gonna come back and rebound."
Taylor knows of what he speaks.
After playing in 12 games as a freshman in 2005, he missed the entire 2006 season after suffering a knee injury during pre-season practice. Last season, his teammates named him the team's comeback player of the year. In 2007, he was second in the Big 12 with 6.5 sacks.
While he was rehabbing his knee, Taylor witnessed a coaching change. Iowa State dismissed Dan McCarney, the coach who had recruited Taylor, and hired Gene Chizik.
"Coach McCarney taught me lessons I'll never forget," Taylor said. "He handled his dismissal with as much class and dignity as anybody I've seen. He made a positive out of a bleak situation. He's one of the classiest individuals I've been around."
For Taylor, the transition from McCarney to Chizik was smooth.
"From the minute (coach Chizik) got here, it was like he was meant to be here," Taylor said. "Our first meeting was great, a man-to-man talk. We had a great relationship right off the bat. He's taught me things I'll never forget.
"People might see the negative in a coaching change but I'll see the positive. I've been around two great head coaches that have taught me a lot."
Taylor hopes to get a shot at playing in the NFL. After that, he has a general idea of career goals but a specific mission statement.
"I want to impact people's lives in a positive way," he said. "It might be motivational speaking, some sort of business, maybe coaching college football, maybe politics. I want to give (pro) football a shot. I just want to motivate and inspire people. That's been near and dear to my heart."
The genesis of Taylor's game plan for life evolved from a conversation with his father.
"I was probably five or six years old," Taylor said. "I wanted to play a professional sport, football, then basketball, then the WWE as a pro wrestler. My dad told me I could do whatever I wanted to do, that all I had to do was put my mind to it and believe.
"It meant so much that my dad had so much confidence in me. I'll never forget that and what I'll have for the rest of my life is the ability to believe. If I don't believe, who else will?"
Taylor jokes that when people ask what he wants to be he says he wants to be president. He has a history of making accurate predictions when it comes to his future.
In third grade, his teacher in Fort Dodge, Iowa, asked the class to write the essay every grade schooler is assigned: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Taylor's answer: A college football player ... at Iowa State.
"I've been blessed," Taylor said. "I get goose bumps thinking about that. Not everybody gets to do that, have it work out that way. Here I am about to wrap up my career at Iowa State.
"This program is headed in the right direction. There are some good seasons coming. After I leave Iowa State, I want people to say that I might not have been the biggest, fastest or strongest but when it was time to put it on the line he put it on the line and didn't take no for an answer. When people say I can't, I'm standing there saying 'Yes, I can.'"