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High school: Taylor commits to NC A&T

By Mike London

mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Justin “JT” Taylor’s stock is rising quickly in the baseball world.

A former Salisbury Hornet who now plays for Concord Academy, Taylor has two years of high school baseball ahead of him, but he’s already committed to D-I North Carolina A&T. He announced his commitment to the Aggies last week.

“North Carolina A&T may not have the glitz and the glam of ACC baseball, but it’s the right fit for me and if you’re good enough, the scouts will find you no matter where you are,” Taylor said. “Going to an HBCU school was very important to me. The campus, the school, the culture — everything felt right at North Carolina A&T. And it’s close to home.”

Times are changing. North Carolina A&T, the nation’s largest HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), was a flagship school for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for 50 years, but the Aggies begin competition this school year in the Big South Conference against new opponents such as High Point, UNC Asheville, Campbell, Gardner-Webb, Radford and Winthrop.

North Carolina A&T is the second HBCU to join the Big South. Hampton University made the move earlier.

In baseball, it’s going to be a step up for the Aggies.  Taylor looks forward to the day when he can be part of it.

Taylor did not look like he was anything out of the ordinary in 2020 when he was a slightly built sophomore second baseman at Salisbury High. He was a .200-hitter in the five games the Hornets were able to play before COVID slammed the door on the season.

But Salisbury coach Mike Herndon always believed Taylor would blossom into something special in time.

“It was never if for JT, it was when,” Herndon said. “As a sophomore, he was young for his grade and he was undersized. He wasn’t all that fast. But he always came to everything we did as far as baseball and the weight room and I knew it would happen for him because he always put in the work, always did the extra stuff. Now he’s gotten bigger. He’s gotten stronger. He’s gotten faster.”

In the past year, Taylor has added a couple of inches and at least 10 pounds. He’s almost 6 feet tall and 165 pounds now and still growing.

With the uncertainty surrounding the NCHSAA’s 2021 high school baseball season, Taylor transferred from Salisbury to Concord Academy, a school once known as First Assembly. With that move, he reclassified in the classroom, so he got to replay his sophomore baseball season.

He just turned 17, so now he’s one of the older ones in the Class of 2023, rather than being one of the youngest.

He was a .340-hitter for the Concord Academy Eagles in the spring, playing against a good schedule. In a game against The Burlington School, he launched two home runs. He got to play shortstop for Concord Academy (UNC signee and MLB draft pick Vance Honeycut was entrenched as the shortstop at Salisbury) and he got to pitch some.

“It was  an adjustment going to a new place, especially getting used to that 25-minute trip to school every day,” Taylor said. “But things worked out in the classroom and on the field.”

Taylor spent some early years in Charlotte where he grew up playing football, basketball and baseball. But baseball always was different for him.

“Baseball is the sport I felt the love for,” Taylor said. “From the start.”

Some Rowan sports fans will remember JT’s father, Bradley Taylor, a starting guard for Salisbury’s strong basketball team in 1993-94. Taylor got the ball to Marvin Dixon and Bobby Phillips, who averaged 27.4 points per game and broke school scoring records.

The Taylors are an athletic family that includes JT’s much larger cousin — Georgia Tech freshman defensive lineman Zeek Biggers.

When JT was growing up, his father took a different approach than most baseball dads. The batting cage was secondary to fielding drills.

Fielding is where Taylor excels now. His hands and glove and range are rated as exceptional and are the main reason he became a D-I prospect.

“My defense definitely is my strength — that’s what we always worked on the most,” Taylor said. “We focused on defense, knowing the bat would come around.”

Taylor has played showcase baseball with the strong Dirtbags program.

North Carolina A&T and UNC Wilmington were among the schools that noticed Taylor’s smoothness as an infielder.

North Carolina A&T was the first to offer Taylor after he impressed coaches at a recent prospects camp.

It’s only a verbal commit at this point, but he sounds as solid for North Carolina A&T as it’s possible to be. It’s his dream school. He’s not looking for bigger, and he doesn’t believe any offer could provide a better opportunity to get on the field early as a D-I player.

“He’s a super kid and we’re all pulling for him,” Herndon said. “He has great hands, great actions in the field.”

North Carolina A&T has strong athletic tradition. Alumni include NFL Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea, Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Al Attles, College Baseball Hall of Famer and MLB hurler Al Holland and numerous world-class track and field athletes.

 

 

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