At the start of 2019, Kole Taylor thought his objectives for the year were clear: have a strong senior season at tight end for the Central High School football team and hopefully earn some kind of collegiate consideration.
His sophomore season in 2017 was solid, 18 catches for 243 yards and two touchdowns, but he broke out last year.
He was a major piece of a team that went 7-4 and made the Class 4A playoffs, more that doubling his output in multiple categories with 510 yards on 29 catches and eight scores. Taylor hauled in a 16-yard touchdown pass from Max Marsh in the Warriors' 31-14 playoff loss to Fruita Monument.
"When I got (to Central), I heard about this 6-feet, 6-inch guy who basically had all the tools to become a great player one day and he just needed a little bit of guidance on how to utilize it," said Central receivers coach Greg Thomas. "I don't think we played one team that could really match up against him.
"There were times where we were pinned down, 4th and long, and us coaches just looked at each other and said, 'Throw it up to Kole!' and he always came down with the ball."
Still, Taylor's play didn't seem to attract much attention from colleges, and as the new year kicked off, his post-prep prospects were murky.
On January 31, all that changed with an offer from the University of Colorado and new coach Mel Tucker.
"Before that first offer from CU, I didn't know if I was going to have to go play (junior college) for two years or if I was going to play D-II somewhere," Taylor said. "It's been crazy here the last couple of months. Before January 1, I didn't even know that I was going to be playing college football for a Power Five school next year."
"Crazy" is an understatement considering just how much his ratings have risen.
Taylor is rated as a 4-star tight end by Rivals.com and a 3-star player by 247Sports, both of which rank him as a top-10 tight end prospect in the country (No. 9 in Rivals, 10th in 247Sports). Both sites also rank him as a top-7 recruit in Colorado.
After receiving the offer from the Buffs, other major programs came calling.
"I definitely believe he's worth the exposure he's gotten this offseason," Thomas said. "He has put in the work with me all year long and is gaining results for it."
Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington, Missouri, Arkansas, Auburn, BYU, California, Iowa, West Virginia and Texas A&M were among the 27 schools to show enough interest in Taylor to offer him a scholarship.
None of those programs will be landing his services, though. Instead, he's down to the first school to offer him, Colorado, as well as Penn State and LSU.
Taylor was born and raised in Grand Junction, so if he took his talents to CU, he would not be far from home. He met Tucker when the coach visited Grand Junction in May, further impressing Taylor.
"He's already built a pretty good recruiting class this year," Taylor said. "We talked a lot. He's very compassionate. He's from Georgia, so he knows big-time football. He really wants to build something special at CU, for sure."
In the case of LSU, Taylor might not fit the physical mold of the traditional Tiger tight end. LSU's offense, which has typically been run-heavy for well over a decade, has featured tight ends like Foster Moreau, a 6-4, 253-pound player who was picked in the fourth round of this year's NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders.
Taylor, who is listed at 225 pounds, has flashed his athleticism plenty of times, such as scoring a 50-yard touchdown on his only rushing attempt last season. But how would he fit in at LSU?
The answer lies in 28-year-old Joe Brady. LSU's newest and youngest assistant was hired as the Tigers' passing game coordinator in January, five days before Taylor got his first offer. He had spent the previous two years as the passing game coordinator with the New Orleans Saints. Last year, three different tight ends scored at least one touchdown for the Saints.
Brady plans on recreating that tight end versatility with LSU.
"He uses tight ends more," Taylor said. "They mainly only recruited big blocking tight ends, but now that they're moving toward pass catching, they're recruiting more of that type of tight end. Their room's not super deep as far as hybrids and stuff."
Penn State, which has run more of a spread offense in recent years, hosted Taylor and his family on an official visit June 20. Penn State has a recent history of producing successful tight ends, with Mike Gesicki being taken by Miami in the second round of the 2018 draft after setting a school record for catches by any player at the position.
In addition to their ability to develop tight end talent, the Nittany Lions have another thing going for them — Taylor's stepmother is a Penn State alumna.
"It's funny, she wore her alumni shirt during my official visit," Taylor said. "In the statistical realm, they use their tight ends a ton, so that's been really cool."
Taylor plans on making his decision soon, preferably by the end of July. Recruitment is a stressful and busy process for high school athletes looking to play at the next level, and with his senior year ahead of him, he doesn't want the decision to linger.
"I don't want to be worrying about it during the season," Taylor said. "I still have a whole high school season left, so I don't want to keep thinking about next year and live in the year that I'm in. People commit and that takes up your spot, too, so it's good to get it done early and know you have a spot there."
Taylor has good reason to focus on his senior year. The Warriors' head coach for the past six years, Shawn Marsh, took the head coach position at Eaglecrest High School, and last year's starting quarterback, Shawn's son Max, went with him.
Many other key pieces are back for Central. The core of the offensive line returns, as do three dependable receivers in Joe Carol, Jackson Eads and Elijah Romero.
With new coach Brandon Milholland stepping in, some changes are coming to the offense. Taylor doesn't think they're drastic enough to suggest a change in style from what the Warriors did well a year ago.
"It's not too much different," Taylor said. "He still wants to spread out and pass the ball a good amount. We're definitely going to throw a lot but balance it with running, for sure."
With the clock winding down until his prep days are over and he moves on to major college football, his objectives are clear once again.
"I want to get through (this season) healthy, that's the first thing," Taylor said. "Everyone wants to win a state championship, that's a given. I also really want to help Milholland put the first layer, a foundation down to help him build his program up.
"We can't go 5-5 and build up from there. We gotta go 8-2 and build up from there."