Blaise Taylor is the fastest man in the Football Bowl Subdivision. In fact, he might be the fastest ever. Record-keepers have been searching around this month and haven’t found anyone faster. But in this case the speed of Arkansas State’s standout defensive back/kick returner isn’t measured by a 40 time or something he did with his school’s track team. It’s more meaningful than that.
Taylor earned an MBA earlier this month, after earning his bachelor’s degree in two and a half years, giving him two degrees before the start of his fourth year on campus. From the National Football Foundation to the country’s sports information directors, no one can recall another instance of an FBS football player earning a master’s so quickly. “I had to make some sacrifices along the way because I did not have much free time with the demands of football and school,” Taylor says, “but I was told once by a coach that you can come to college and have ‘fun’ for four years or set yourself up to have ‘fun’ for the next 40 years.”
The most challenging aspect was avoiding distractions along the way. “For most college students, it’s the first time in their life where you have minimal structure and a lot of free time to spend how you want,” Taylor says.
Taylor’s mother, Dr. Evelyn Taylor, earned her Ph.D. in psychology; his father is Red Wolves cornerbacks coach Trooper Taylor. Blaise credits his family, academic coordinators, coaches and athletic director Terry Mohajir for helping him accomplish a goal he set while he was still in high school.
Taylor had a unique perspective on college athletics, growing up as his dad rose up in the coaching world. Trooper Taylor was a terrific kick returner at Baylor and has coached at Auburn and Tennessee, among other stops. At 5' 9" and 165 pounds, Blaise is a record-setting return man in his own right, with three career punt returns for touchdowns. He also ranked third in the Sun Belt in passes defensed last year, with 12.
“I saw many universities profit from the talents and abilities of the athletes, but unfortunately many of the athletes did not profit because they did not take advantage of the resources that were made available to them,” Blaise says. “The college is going to make money off you, and in return they give you a scholarship to pay for your football. I saw many of the universities benefit from the players, but I think players usually don’t think about using the school to get as much paid for as possible and exhaust every resource out of the school like the school exhausts every resource out of them while they are there.”
Last fall Taylor was enrolled in nine hours of grad school: two in-person classes (both of which met only on Mondays, the football team’s off day) and one online class. “Even though my schedule did not seem that demanding, when I was not at practice or in class, I spent most of my time studying,” Taylor says. “Although the content was not as tough, my schedule was actually much more hectic when I was working on my bachelor’s because of the amount of hours I was taking.”
As an undergrad, Taylor took six courses per semester: He normally had three hours of classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, and then two classes on Tuesday and Thursdays, plus one online course. In the afternoon, he would go straight from lunch to football practice to dinner with the team, and then back to his room to do homework, turning the TV on if the Cowboys were playing in primetime.
Taylor never set out to finish his master’s in record time or become an example of what college football players should do. He simply wanted to accomplish the goals he created for himself in high school. “I think my story can be a testament to other athletes that if you work hard and come to college with a plan you can be successful both on the field and in the classroom,” he says. “I think the perception that college football players major in football is simply a false reality. Many players have graduated early and maintained high GPAs while managing a hectic football schedule. I think the media often only portrays student-athletes who are critical of school or post negative things about school in social media, but do not often report things when student-athletes post positively on social media about school.”
In addition to his work on the field and in the classroom, Taylor is up for consideration on the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team for his off-field contributions in the local community. He is involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes; serves as a liaison between the football players and the athletic director on the Student Athletic Academic Council (SAAC) and advocates for changes to improve the environment for the student-athletes on campus. Last year he organized and coordinated student-athletes’ efforts to sponsor a child at Christmas by collecting monetary donations and purchasing gifts on the children’s Christmas lists.
He has done community service work at several other organizations, but his interest in working with at-risk youth drew him to a local alternative school called Success Academy, where he volunteered twice a week last year. That experience motivated him to create his own non-profit, The Power of One and Two, designed to work with underprivileged children. He and his sister Starr (who wears No. 2 for the Arkansas State women’s basketball team) just completed the process to have the non-profit incorporated. After finishing his playing career, he plans on becoming a sports agent and starting his own agency.
“I knew growing up as a kid, watching some players not taking advantage of their opportunities off the field, that I wasn’t going to be that athlete that didn’t take advantage of the resources provided to me and have very little to show for it,” Taylor says. “I was going to make sure I maximized my benefits.”