Kory Cioroch watched from afar on Saturday night while one of his former players, Gophers running back Darius Taylor, sliced and powered his way to 193 rushing yards against Eastern Michigan.
"It looked pretty familiar to me," Cioroch observed.
He certainly would know. Cioroch is the football coach at Walled Lake Western High School in the northwest Detroit suburbs. Taylor, a true freshman, got his first extensive collegiate playing time, carried the ball 33 times and scored a touchdown in the Gophers' 22-6 victory.
"I came in knowing that whatever I could contribute, I would," Taylor said afterward. "I feel like the coaches put me in a good opportunity to make plays."
The next opportunity for Taylor and the Gophers comes Saturday against No. 20 North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The 5-11, 210-pounder will have a chance to build on his breakthrough game that included a rushing total by a true freshman that is second in program history only to Darrell Thompson's 205 yards against Bowling Green in 1986.
"Darius got probably way more [carries] than we even thought he was going to get, but he earned it," Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. "Every rep he ran, he earned more and more and more. You don't know what a true freshman can do in a game until he goes and does it."
Seizing the moment
Taylor got his chance because injured senior Bryce Williams sat out the game and starter Sean Tyler fumbled twice, losing one of them. After eight first-half carries for 44 yards, Taylor ran 25 times for 149 yards in the second half in helping the Gophers hold the ball for 21 minutes, 52 seconds after intermission.
"When he got into the game, he started rolling and he started playing well," Gophers co-offensive coordinator Greg Harbaugh Jr. said. "I was not surprised at all because he's continued to stack days on days of getting better at practice."
Taylor's stats against Eastern Michigan weren't that far off from his 223-yards-per-game rushing average last year at Walled Lake, where he finished the season with 2,450 yards and 36 TDs while averaging 9.1 yards per carry.
"He was very, very fluid and very physical," Cioroch said. "It was awesome to watch."
Added Fleck, "He just has a long way to go, but what you saw was a snippet of what he can actually become."
Early work pays off for Gophers
Taylor is in only his third season as a running back after playing slot receiver as a high school sophomore. His early scholarship offers included Division II Ferris State and FCS-level Youngstown State, but a strong junior season prompted Mid-American Conference and some Power Five schools to take notice. The Gophers made their offer in January 2022 and quickly built a solid relationship with Taylor. He verbally committed that April.
The waiting, though, was the hardest part for Fleck. As Taylor tore through prep defenses during his senior season, Michigan and Michigan State showed increased interest in a player rated the nation's 23rd-best high school running back in the 2023 class by the 247Sports composite rankings.
"It was a long process, and we got on him really early," Fleck said. "On paper, schools that the outside world probably would say, "You're crazy to turn down and come [to Minnesota],' he got that every day in school. And he was unwavering. That's the type of young man he is."
Not that there weren't tense moments for Fleck.
"Every time you'd see the phone [caller I.D.] say 'Darius Taylor,' you'd panic,'' Fleck said. "Or the text messages. The worst ones were, 'Coach, can we talk?' "
Turns out, Taylor's "Can we talk?" text was just to change the time of a scheduled phone call.
"Darius is a very loyal kid," Cioroch said. "The early attention and early relationships he built with Minnesota and their coaches, kids and staff were the final pieces of the decision. Michigan and Michigan State came late and didn't show enough confidence in him early, and he didn't like that. He wanted to go somewhere where he was loved."
Also important to Taylor was the chance to play quickly.
"Go somewhere to be the guy, not just a guy," said Cioroch, whose high school team played Thursday, giving him the chance to travel to North Carolina to watch Taylor do exactly that.