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Ben Smith

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Slain GI took on sacrifice for team


– Couple of weeks and it'll be go time again at South Adams. They'll hand out the gear. They'll dump the footballs onto the shredded-wheat grass. The pitiless sun will beat pitilessly down, and the sky will be all be blue-white and thirsty, same as ever in this thirsty summer.

And maybe Jason Arnold, South Adams' football coach, will have his boys all take a knee there on the parched earth. And then maybe he'll talk a bit about Nick Taylor.

Maybe he'll talk about a kid who grew up in a small town and loved small-town pleasures and who had a way of getting into a coach's heart. Maybe he'll talk about how you could put Nick Taylor anywhere – linebacker, fullback, even offensive line once upon a time – and he'd grin and nod and buckle up the chin strap, and then go out and do whatever had to be done for the greater good.

Maybe Jason Arnold will say all that, and then look up at that stubborn dry-eyed sky, and it'll occur to him that's what Nick Taylor was doing the other day in Afghanistan, too, when a rocket-propelled grenade struck the vehicle he was driving and ended his life.

Taylor, attached to the 713 Engineer Company of the Indiana National Guard, was part of a unit looking for roadside bombs when the RPG found its target.

His death took the wind out of Berne the way these things take the wind out of all small towns, because in small towns everybody knows everybody, and one memory of someone becomes everybody's memory.

"I came over from Norwell when Nick was a junior, so I got to experience Nick two years as a player," Arnold said. "From those two years getting to know him, I can say he was exactly the kind of kid a high school football coach wants.

"He's a kid who was passionate about the game, first of all. He loved to play football. You could tell every day at practice, and you could tell how he went about things."

And was he coachable? You bet.

"When I moved him to the offensive line, I remember almost being nervous about asking him," Arnold recalls.

"But he just said, 'Whatever, Coach, whatever you need me to do.' And after he said that, I almost felt silly for being nervous about it. He just did what you wanted him to do and what every coach wants every player to do."

And it all worked out, anyway.

His last fall at South Adams, 2009, Taylor emerged as a defensive leader as the team's middle linebacker, and while the Starfires lost more than they won – they went 4-6 – they had their moments.

The big win over county rival Adams Central. The dramatic win against Garrett, which South Adams won on Taylor LeFever's field goal as time expired.

There was a good memory to take out of high school, by golly. And later that winter, when Taylor, wrestling at 171 pounds, advanced to the semistate for South Adams, … well, that was a good memory, too.

After that came graduation, and Taylor, the son of Berne's police chief, pondered his options. He thought he might like to try college ball, if he were big enough or fast enough. Or he might join the military.

Off he went to the latter, eventually. And two months before he was due to come home – his plan was to enroll at IPFW with younger brother Drew – the RPG found him.

"I would say the military got the same kid we got at South Adams," Arnold said.

There are worse benedictions.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.