USA Today Sports/Rebilas

WSU's Robert Taylor walks among giants after ending long special teams drought

WITH HIS 100-YARD kickoff return for a touchdown against Arizona State on Saturday, Washington State defensive back Robert Taylor not only vanquished 13 years of ugly special teams ghosts but woke the echoes of some great names in Cougar football history.

First and foremost, there's the almost unfathomable albatross Taylor ripped off the collective crimson neck with his spin move at the 10, acceleration to the left sideline and tip-toeing, side-stepping sprint to pay dirt at the 8:41 mark of the second quarter (see video from Pac-12 Networks at bottom of this page).

His fancy footwork marked WSU's first kickoff return for a TD since Sammy Moore went 97 yards in a WSU win at Colorado in September 2003. Moore also took one to the house eight months earlier, in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma.

Since Sammy, it's been 13 years and five weeks of .... nada.

Until Saturday night in Tempe.

Taylor's electrifying work narrowed ASU's lead to 14-10 and swung the momentum of the game to the Cougars' side. "It seemed to change everything," the Pac-12 Networks' Roxy Bernstein said as the 37-32 WSU victory wound down.

"Ridiculous," ASU coach Todd Graham quipped at halftime of Taylor's fancy footwork.

In the process, Taylor tied two of the greatest return men in WSU history for longest kickoff return in history. Running back Bernard Jackson, a WSU Hall of Famer who went on to a long NFL career, took one 100 yards against UCLA in Spokane in 1971 and defensive back Anthony Prior, who also played in the NFL, went 100 against USC in Pullman in 1991.

"It's such a blessing," Taylor said after the game. "It's all paying off right now."

He becomes the 20th Cougar since 1948 to return a kickoff for a touchdown. Six have multiple KO TDs.

Now if only the Cougs could vanquish their punt return drought, special teams coach Eric Mele might be asking for a big raise come season's end. WSU's last three punt returns for TDs were all by Michael Bumpus -- two in 2004 and one in 2005.

TAYLOR'S PATH TO PULLMAN and the Cougar record books was a circuitous one. After graduating from Deer Valley High in Hayward, Calif., he headed to UC-Davis, where he appeared in eight games and posted 12 tackles in 2014. But he would later tell, "I just didn't feel comfortable there and I felt like I could play at the highest level of college football."

So he transferred to City College of San Francisco, a JC powerhouse, where he earned all-league honors last season. He verbally committed to the Cougs on an official visit last December and canceled trips to West Virginia and Purdue.

The Cougars, it turned out, had an inside track with the 5-10, 180-pounder. His cousin is Suli Hameed, the Cougar defensive back who ended his career for medical reasons earlier this year. “Honestly, I had a feeling going in I that might commit, but then it hit me once I was out there,” Taylor told CF.C shortly after his Palouse visit. “Having someone from my family on the team is big for me. Suliaman plays safety and so does (fellow CCSF alum) Shalom (Luani). Being able to play next to those guys while I’m out there was big for me in my decision.”

CALL HIM NOSTRADAMUS: beat writer Skyler Cracraft said this in his practice report from Pullman on Tuesday: "I think WSU has found their return guy in Robert Taylor. As you saw in a couple returns against UCLA, he has a second gear available that would allow him to take it to the house. Taylor just needs one or two more blocks and he’s off to the races."


100 YARDS:

Robert Taylor (at ASU 2016)

Anthony Prior (vs USC 1991)

Bernard Jackson (vs UCLA 1971)


Anthony Prior (at Arizona 1990)


Deron Pointer (vs UCLA 1992)

Steve Broussard (at ASU 1989)


Sammy Moore (at Colorado 2003)

Kevin Hicks (at Michigan 1993)

Mark Williams (at UCLA 1968)

NEXT UP: The Cougars (5-2/4-0) travel to Oregon State on Saturday for an evening kick in Corvallis.

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