T.C. Taylor has endured Celebration Bowl heartbreak with Jackson State, North Carolina Central — Andscape
Leading teams to Cricket Celebration Bowl is a familiar process for newly named Jackson State University head coach T.C. Taylor.
Taylor was the offensive coordinator for North Carolina Central’s Eagles in 2016 during their first Celebration Bowl appearance, which ended in a one-point loss. He also was the offensive coordinator for Jackson State during the Tigers’ unsuccessful Celebration Bowl bid last year.
When Jackson State plays North Carolina Central on Saturday in Celebration Bowl this year, it will be the first time Taylor has faced his former team – and with an 0-2 record in the Black college football national championship, he hopes history doesn’t repeat itself.
“Right now, it’s no more emotions so much. It’s just, like, get it done. It’s time to bring one back home now,” Taylor said. “See, this being my third time I know what the atmosphere, stage, [and] game is like. You can’t look at no record.”
Taylor, days away from taking over as Deion Sanders’ successor at Jackson State, understands his coaching stint at North Carolina Central helped to prepare him to be a head coach.
“I could never get those years back, man. It was the city of Durham with a great coaching staff, so many great players my entire time there, so it just meant a lot to me,” Taylor said. “I grew, I think, as a coach. When I left Central I was a better coach than when I got there by far, mentally … just how I approached the game [and] for getting the most out of football players.”
Former North Carolina Central head coach Jerry Mack, whose relationship with Taylor has lasted more than 18 years, hired Taylor in 2014 to his first Division I offensive coordinator position. Mack watched Taylor’s growth as a coordinator and shared playcalling duties with Taylor before fully releasing the reins to him a year later.
When the Eagles were down by seven points in the 2016 Celebration Bowl with less than four minutes left to play, Taylor orchestrated the potential game-tying drive. Though the Eagles would score a touchdown to close the gap, a missed PAT would end their championship dreams; however, Taylor’s playcalling drew praise from Mack.
“He has such an even-keeled demeanor all the time. You’re always looking for that in your playcaller, somebody that doesn’t panic under pressure. … He’s got ice in his veins. It’s just easy for him,” Mack said.
“Some guys can’t handle the pressure of being the person or in that moment. T.C. has always been a guy that can handle the moment and take it to another level.”
Taylor believes the players made the difference in that game’s final moment.
“When you get really good players on the football field, they have the ability to take over a game, no matter what you are calling for as players,” Taylor said. “Those kids really wanted to win that football game, so I give them a lot of credit as well in that situation.”
Although nearly four years removed from being a member of the Eagles’ coaching staff, the relationships Taylor built during his tenure remain strong. Taylor recruited several of the team’s current players.
E.J. Hicks, one of North Carolina Central’s top wide receivers, is looking forward to seeing his former coach on the sidelines, even though Taylor isn’t wearing Central colors.
“I haven’t talked to him recently, [but] if I see him, there’s probably gonna be nothing but love out here,” Hicks said. “He recruited me and got me to come to Central, so it’s nothing but my love for Coach T.C., for real. So just seeing him it’d be a nice time, just to see him, dap it up with him and have some laughs.”
Taylor, a former Jackson State player, joined the Tigers’ staff as a position coach in 2019. When Sanders called on Taylor last season to lead Jackson State’s offense after the bye week, Taylor’s offense helped the Tigers earn their first trip to the Celebration Bowl. Though the Tigers lost to South Carolina State 31-10, Taylor took the defeat as a learning opportunity to work toward finding a winning formula for the bowl game.
“There were teachable moments there. It might not have been something I liked, you know, but I had to take what was given to me in that moment and use it to get better,” Taylor said. “You just gotta go out there, execute [and] play good football. Don’t make mistakes. And finally, don’t don’t beat yourself as a football team but find a way in the end when the fourth-quarter clock strikes.”
Mack believes experience is a part of that winning formula.
“I think those are some of the things that you learn with experience in this game,” Mack said. “That’s one thing he’s gonna have going into the game – nobody on that field has been to more Celebration Bowls than T.C.”
With his focus on finishing the season undefeated, Taylor wants to send the seniors out with a trophy – and he wants to give the city of Jackson, Mississippi, something to celebrate.
“You just want to be the one celebrating in that stadium, and that’s the thing that I really remember,” Taylor said. “After the previous two times watching teams celebrating under the confetti, I want to get that done this year.”
Cricket Celebration Bowl
When: Noon EST, Saturday.
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta.